Interview: Caroline Meade on her Debut Album and Creating Original Music by Elena Giardina

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With hopes to inspire young musicians similar to herself, LaGuardia’s own Caroline Meade has recently released her debut album, Grow Up. Poetically highlighting the twists and turns of adolescence, her latest music speaks to her audience and resonates with young hearts.

On May 13, 2019, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline and listening to her speak about her experiences with songwriting, singing, performing, and being a student all at the same time. In the Q&A interview below, read about her introduction to music, her inspiration, her creative process, and her message for her listeners.

Interview

Interviewer: Elena Giardina

Interviewee: Caroline Meade

Elena: So, when did you start getting into music? Who or what introduced you to it?

Caroline: I have no one in my family that is a musician. My parents work in music television, so I was kind of around that as a little child, but it was not something I- I think it’s actually skewed my view on music because it was something that was super attainable to me. And I was like, Oh, that’s normal. Those were the first jobs that I was exposed to- being a musician. I was like, Oh, that’s a really normal, attainable thing, and my parents kind of went the same way about it. They were like, “You do whatever you want”. But, yeah, they’re not musicians. And my mom always took me to a lot of Broadway shows, and that was like my first thing- musical theater. I was eight when I started taking singing lessons. I was eight years old; I thought I was the shit because my voice matured. And then I took voice lessons, and I was not the shit, and they were really super hard for me. I had a really hard teacher, and I’m definitely really grateful that I had that, but singing was like hard work for me. It didn’t come naturally. When I started taking lessons my teacher was super technique-based, and I kind of was like- all my ego crashed for so long. But yeah, I was eight years old when I started getting into it.

Elena: When did you start songwriting?

Caroline: Songwriting was towards the end of eighth grade. It was really something I never thought I could do because- I don’t know why, but I just thought, I don’t play an instrument; I’ll never be able to do it. I’ll never be able to songwrite, and I’ll never be able to play an instrument. And that was just not true. I started writing songs a capella at the end of eighth grade, and when I got to LaGuardia I started doing that more. My locker is right outside the New Music room, and I was like, Oh my God! These people are so cool! I really want to do this! And then I found people to work with, and then I eventually learned an instrument. I play guitar now. I worked with my instrumentalist friends on songs that I did a capella. So, I started out collaborating and then started writing.

Elena: So is that what your creative process is like, working with other people and putting things together?

Caroline: Now it’s kind of not. I used my friends as like… like, I never… Honestly, and this is so bad, but I never finish a song without showing my friends because I really appreciate their opinions. And my mom, too. Although with my mom I have to take it with a grain of salt because we’re from different generations and, ya know… Yeah, so it’s still collaborative. And I still write with other people from time to time, but now it’s kind of like all the instrumentation is by myself. With most of my new songs I don’t really do that with people. But when I teach it to a band, everyone usually comes up with their own parts. So, it is collaborative, just less.

Elena: Would you say that you find inspiration within the other kids in New Music?

Caroline: Absolutely. Last year was really… I was like… Well, I have a friend. Who now, we’re very close friends. But there was a girl a year older than me named Doree. I heard her music in my Freshman year. And she was the coolest Sophomore because she was in New Music in her Sophomore year, which was, like, unheard of. I think she was one of the last people to do that because now it’s not allowed. And I was like, This girl is so cool. She plays guitar so well. I want to be friends with her, or I want to just write with her. Her lyric writing heavily influenced me. They were so good, and I was like, wow I am not good enough. I mean, in any program I’m in, I really do enjoy being the worst one because you learn so much. And usually people are like, “well, it’s good to be in the middle”, but honestly, being the worst one has really helped me. In so many things. No matter what, I love being the worst one in things. So I’m so excited for college!

Elena: That’s a good attitude, though, because then you must not feel put down. I’d hope not.

Caroline: Yeah, no no no. I feel like I’ve always been an underdeveloped musician compared to the people around me. Probably because I started so late. So, I’m okay with it. I just feel underdeveloped and like I have too much to learn. So, being around other musicians has really inspired me. And not only Doree, a lot of people in the class as well. Even the juniors this year. I’ve been so impressed with what they’ve done. And also, what they’ve done with the little rehearsals they have. You know, it’s amazing. I’m always inspired by other musicians. I definitely don’t think I’m too good for that. And, hopefully I inspire other people, but if I don’t it’s fine.

Elena: Are there any other major musicians that you’ve been a fan of that have influenced your music at all?

Caroline: This year it was totally St. Vincent; she was such a heavy, heavy influence. I’m obsessed with listening to mass amounts of music. I feel so overwhelmed all the time because there’s so much I haven’t heard. Whenever I have a conversation with someone about music and they mention an artist I don’t know, I’m like, Oh my goodness, this is another person I have to listen to. But every year, there’s usually one person in the summer that I’m really, like, practicing to. And I learn their songs and then figure it out. So, St. Vincent was really influential to my writing this year. Cage The Elephant was really influential to me the year before. I don’t know if I’m heavily influenced by things in a way that’s really obvious, but I think also growing up listening to a lot of what was popular really helped my ear. I think I have a good feel for a song. That mountain of a song where it goes where it needs to go and where it ends where it needs to end. I can really detect in my writing when I’m like, this has gone on too long. This song is for you. It has to stop here. You didn’t write this for other people to listen to. So I think that’s my basis for writing songs. Just listening to really common music, working from there, and then picking out what I liked and didn’t like. I’ve definitely grown from a lot of the bad music I’ve listened to.

Elena: When writing your own music, do you start with lyrics and poetry or do you start with chords and melody?

Caroline: At first I did write them a capella, so I would write the lyrics first. Or sometimes I’ll have a melody, and I’ll have it in my voice memos, and I’ll write “save for a rainy day” or something like that. I’m a really bad guitarist, and I don’t know anything. Like, I don’t know any theory. I took lessons for a little bit, but it was more of a hang, you know. But now when I practice the guitar and dabble on guitar, to get out of practicing I’ll write new things, and that’s how I start. So I’ve started with chords now.

Elena: Going back to the New Music Show, you were talking about how you draw inspiration from your classmates in New Music. From an audience perspective, that show was so energetic. You guys made the show as energetic as it was. How does it feel to be up on the stage and making other people feel that way?

Caroline: Well, I saw the New Music show when I was a sophomore before I knew I was in the class and after I auditioned. I couldn’t even imagine what it was like to do your own song on stage. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. I was in Rising Stars, and I did my own song, but that didn’t really feel like that. It wasn’t even that much fun- I’m going to be real- it really wasn’t even that much fun. And I was like, why is this not what that is? Then the big show came, and I was like, oh because we’re all working together for this one common goal. Also that was our first run of the entire show because our blackout was cut. That was the first full run so everyone was, like, on it. Everyone was focused, which is what you would think would happen in the show, but it’s never what happens. But I can honestly say that every single person was on it. So I think that was a really nice feeling because we really faced a lot of adversity, and I think all the songs went smoothly. I think everyone was really proud to work together. It was such a team effort, and that was what was missing from Rising Stars: everyone working together to do this. It was beautiful.

Elena: Yeah, and you guys aren’t just presenting your own work. You’re helping your friends present their work. To be an artist you have to give so much of yourself, and that’s a lot. What emotions come with that- sharing a piece of yourself and putting it out into the world?

Caroline: I didn’t do a song that was quite vulnerable, so I didn’t really… also, I think when you write a song a long-enough time ago you start to become detached from it. A lot of the songs in my album were super vulnerable, like, super vulnerable. Like, my entire childhood out on the line for everyone to hear, and at first that was scary. I would feel uncomfortable performing those songs, like very. And my Big Show song, I wrote that in September. So I was like, alright. I don’t even remember what this was about. It’s okay, it’s just a song. But there were a lot of emotions about growing up. That was kind of what my song was about, and I was like, damn. This is my first and last big show with all my friends who are all graduating and my song is about being scared, about growing up. We’re all working together, and we’re never going to be this young, and all that morbid shit that I am so about, unfortunately.

Elena: And that’s what your whole album was about. It was about getting older and changing, and that’s a really good topic because that’s what you know. That’s what you’re going through. They do say to write what you know.

Caroline: Yeah. It wasn’t even that intentional. I titled the album years after I wrote those songs. Like, actually years.

Elena: What is the oldest song you wrote on your album?

Caroline: Catcher. I wrote that song acapella. Like, the entire song one way through. And then I worked with my guitarist and we figured out something. There were also songs that didn’t make it on the album that I had written before that. The idea of Catcher was from freshman year, and I didn’t record it until the end of junior year So I was just kind of like, wow these songs I’ve wrote throughout high school are really dramatic and emotional and about so many things that have happened in my life. So I thought “Grow Up” was a fitting title.

Elena: It seems like when you write in a journal or a diary and look back at all the old entries.

Caroline: Well, I’m not completely mortified like that. Like, even like “Poor Little Prayer”, I listen to that and I’m just like, aw, little Caroline. She’s so sad. But yeah, I’m not mortified, I’m just in a very different place. Even when I was recording them. Dizzy Spring was the last song I wrote for that album. I wrote Dizzy Spring two months before I recorded the whole album, and I recorded the album in four days. Even when I recorded I felt a bit out of touch with some of it. Which could be hard. In the next album I might record as I go along.

Elena: That’s a good idea. Then you’ll get all that emotion from each song in each recording.

Caroline: Right, right, because you just get so tuckered out by all the songs. After gig, after gig you’re just like, what was I ever singing about? Even with “Streetcar”. People loved that song, and that song was basically produced by Mr. Apostle. He just kept giving me corrections and corrections, and I had to take it. I think I wrote fifty chorus’ of lyrics because the lyrics just weren’t good enough. And the lyrics aren’t even that good now. They’re not even that remarkable, but, like, the lyrics were just super imbalanced, and I had to keep on writing things that would balance it out. That song had four bridges that were written- not good enough, not good enough, not good enough. So by the time I performed that song I was just like, alright. I was tuckered out by that song before I started gigging it because I had to rewrite it like eight times.

Elena: How long did it take you to complete that song with all the rewrites and edits?

Caroline: It was from a poem I wrote in sophomore year, and I had only written the chorus melody. I was like, that’s cool. I like that. And it was in my voice memos. The winter show was coming up for the next year, and I was like, I need something, and I have no ideas because I just spent a summer trying to force myself to write. I’m drained. And so I went back to that voice memo and wrote a song around it. That was in October, and I finished the song in December right before the winter show. I just kept getting corrections (which I’m super grateful for). Criticism can be hard to take, but come on. You have to listen to people that know what they know. Even when you don’t respect someone’s musical opinion, you should still listen to them. Like my sister, we have super different tastes in music. She listens to Top 40, and that’s not my thing, but that’s a lot of people’s thing- a great deal of people. I would be an asshole if I only made music for myself. So, you have to listen to people.

Elena: Would you say that you go through writer’s block a lot?

Caroline: Absolutely. I had severe anxiety about writer’s block. Like, after that winter show- girl, I’m letting everything out on the line right now. Everything. After the winter show, I literally thought I was a one-hit-wonder. I was like, I’ll never write a song again. I’ll never be able to do it. That was my gift from god. And my mom always said that every musician says they have this gift, and it’s, like, that song that feels like it was just written in a minute, and it’s magical, and it’s good, and it was easy to write, and that’s a load of bullshit. I don’t even think that song was that song for me, but at the time I did. Mr. Apostle wanted me to write a rock song for the Big Show, and I was just like, I’m in a different direction and he was just like, no. I love that direction you were going to. And I was totally in this experimental phase, and those two things were not working. He wanted me to write a rock song, and I was not in that anymore. My head wasn’t there, and I had severe anxiety about writing because I couldn’t write a rock song. Like, if it doesn’t come out naturally it probably comes out like garbage. Yeah, forcing a rock song? That’s awful. It’s so hard. I was like, I have severe writer’s block, and I don’t know how to get out of it. I would talk to my friends and they would be like, you’ll get out of it. And honestly, my life is very hectic right now with a lot of changes, so I haven’t had the most time to write. I write lyrics all the time, and I kind of take a breather and know that a song comes to me every season. It’s literally happened like that for the last three years.

Elena: So would you say that that’s what brings you out of your writer’s block- the changing of the seasons?

Caroline: I don’t know if that’s even it, but I know that it’s coming. You know what I mean? I just know myself. Like, at this point I know that something will come naturally. There’s a certain amount of time where something actually has to come up. For Rockwood, I’ve been trying to write something and it’s been half natural and half, oh shit I need a song. So, sometimes pressure works. Sometimes pressure doesn’t work.

Elena: Were there any songs in your album that happened either during that writer’s block phase or after?

Caroline: Um, no, because they weren’t good. Well, “Dizzy Spring” was one of the last songs I wrote, and I think that was a little bit after the writer’s block really hit, and I was, like, calmed down. Also, when you’re nervous about songwriting you’re not going to get something good. And I had such bad anxiety about songwriting. I was like, I want to go to college for this thing that’s making me age. What is going on with my life? With “Dizzy Spring” I decided to write a little bit every day and edit every day, and I wrote it in two weeks. I did it like an assignment, and it actually worked.

Elena: That’s a good way to do things because it’s more natural than trying to bang out a song in one sitting.

Caroline: Yeah. And obviously I’m very early in my musical career, whatever that is, and I don’t have that many songs. So when I need a song for something I have to write something. I don’t have much to pick from at this point. But when you have a song that you’re going to use for a show and have a backup, it’s kind of like a safety net where you feel that you have more freedom to write because there’s no pressure.

Elena: You don’t have a time limit or restrictions.

Caroline: That’s why I didn’t want to major in songwriting in college. I did the Berklee songwriting program. I was there for five days, and I was like, I can’t do this. It was draining.

Elena: Was the expectation to write a song by the end of the five days?

Caroline: I wrote a song every day. And they weren’t good because I was writing a song every day. I really don’t believe that quantity is quality. I’m a big believer in letting things come naturally and working on your lyrics all the time but also not forcing anything. I felt like that task was homework.

Elena: So what are you majoring in college?

Caroline: I am majoring in… Oh my God. God rest my mom. No, no, no, my mom’s not dead, she’s not dead. But like, God bless my mom for putting up with me because her child is going to school for contemporary improv in music. It sounds so hippie-ish. It focuses on composition, aural skills, and performance. So it has the three aspects that I like where in other schools you’re only a songwriter. I need to work on my musicianship. I’m not good enough to major in songwriting right now. I’m literally just skating by with what I know. It’s basically just intense musicianship of writers.

Elena: That sounds really interesting. You seem to get a lot of different aspects, and with that you can do whatever you want. You could songwrite, perform your own songs, and also perform other people’s songs.

Caroline: Yeah, they’re super into not being just one thing, so they force you to be a part of two ensembles every semester. And their ensembled are vast.

Elena: What school?

Caroline: New England Conservatory.

Elena: Congratulations!

Caroline: Thank you! And if you have an idea for something, they will do it. They work with you. The main focus of the program is to be able to write what you hear in your head and become a good enough musician where you can do that, which has been the biggest struggle of my life. Like, the biggest struggle. That’s my biggest struggle with music because I’m such a bad musician. I also had a language processing disorder when I was little, so that was a struggle too. It’s a lot. I think this program is perfect for me.

Elena: I’m definitely assuming that you’ll be continuing with music in the future, so do you think you’ll be letting out more albums in the near future, or do you think you’ll wait until after college to release a second album?

Caroline: In my brain, I was always like, Oh, I’ll put something out at the end of college. And I guess that’s still the goal, but I’ve been writing a lot. I have a feeling this next year is going to bring a lot of change, and I don’t want to record something that’s from a completely different phase. I want my album to have some sort of organized vibe. I feel like if I release something at the end of the four years it’ll be a lot of different songs. Maybe in, like, two or three years. But, yeah, I need to gig this album a little more before I do that. But, I’m working. I’ve written four songs since the album came out. It’s almost four seasons since the album. I didn’t write this summer. I wrote a song in September, one in the beginning of winter, one towards the end of winter, and then one just now.

Elena: From this album, which song is your favorite?

Caroline: I really don’t know the answer to that. At this point I respect my own music, but I don’t know if it’s my taste anymore. I don’t know if what I write is what I would listen to myself. And that’s not to be a downer; I just think I have different tastes than my own writing. I would say “A Brief History of Time” is one of the songs I would actually listen to. I think my lyrics are better in that than in the other songs. I think in the other songs my lyrics were very clearly written from a freshman’s hormonal point of view. “A Brief History of Time” is also extremely hormonal, but there’s a lot of thought put into it. I know me, so I can hear that thought, and I really like it. Also, “Catcher” is fun to listen to. But, yeah, that’s about it.

Elena: What do you hope people get out of “Grow Up”. Is there some kind of message you want to send to your listeners.

Caroline: Um, no. Well, it’s kind of just a large journal entry, that album. One of the things about it that I really like is that it was all made by kids. There wasn’t one adult involved in the making of the album. I payed for the whole thing. The people who mix-mastered were all college students. I just hope it makes people feel like they can do things that they thought they couldn’t. So I think it’s not the music itself; it’s more that it was made by kids.

Elena: That’s great. I think people underestimate the power of today’s youth and what we can do. Even we underestimate what we can do.

Caroline: Yeah. It’s such a shame to wait. Even my guitar teacher was like, you’ll never write the same songs that you do when you’re sixteen. You’re changing at such a rapid pace that you’ll never change at again. It’s really important that you document that in some way. And I think waiting to do all that is just a shame. I think you miss out on a really creative point in your life. Not that creativity doesn’t follow you, but exploring it now will lead to more creative endeavors later. So I think that’s the message. Don’t wait to do something. Just do it when you’re ready.

Elena: Are there any specific challenges you’ve faced being such a young musician?

Caroline: Kind of being a girl. Especially a girl that sings rock. I’m not trying to gas myself up, but before people started seeing me perform I think they expected less. It’s hard to take charge of your own rehearsals when there are really authoritative men in the room. They think they know everything, and you just say yes. I did that for a while, and I am not proud of that. But also, because I’m not that great of a musician- I keep saying that. I feel like it’s a terrible thing to say in an interview.

Elena: It’s not true! You should stop saying it.

Caroline: Well, because I don’t know that much, it can be hard to talk to a band. So other people would have to say things for me (which I’m grateful for), but I definitely let a lot of people overstep. I think that’s not a good thing. And I think being a female you’re just like, oh yeah.

Elena: It’s awful because you become used to it.

Caroline: You become used to it! Being a female in rock is just weird. I did a show at the 72 not too long ago, and there were three rock-ish bands. Each band had about seven people. Seven times three is twenty-one, and there were three girls. But that’s a lot, and it feels weird.

Elena: You’re outnumbered, and you become the minority of a room.

Caroline: Yeah. It doesn’t feel right. It could make you feel like a little bit of a badass because you’re like, I’m the only girl! But also, like, why are you the only girl? It doesn’t seem right. But, maybe it’s just that less girls are into rock. But it could also be that people step on girls when they want to make decisions about their own music. It’s a good thing that I worked with my friends who respect me because they’re my friends. I’m going to a school next year that’s, like, 80% guys, so I’m hoping that power thing isn’t a problem. I’m sure it will be, though. It’s really a problem with women in jazz as well. I’m in the jazz improv program, and I was in a combo of all guys. There are times when you’re just not heard.

Elena: I hope you don’t find that a lot in New Music.

Caroline: With certain people, yeah. With certain people, they’ll think that my rehearsal is theirs. I’ve dealt with people where it’s like, if I give a direction about my song in a normal way, I’m a bitch. They’ll roll their eyes, meanwhile it’s my song. It’s just a direction; nothing personal! But because you’re a girl you’re a bitch. That’s not the vibe in New Music, but you know certain people are going to be like that. It kinda sucks, but I’ve gotten to a point where I know who’s going to do that. I think I’ve grown up a little bit, and I know how to stick up for myself in those situations. It’s taken a bit.

Elena: It’s hard if you feel put down or underappreciated by the people around you.

Caroline: Yeah, and, like, I’m super open about how little I know. So people decide that they’re going to speak up for me, but it’s not always the right thing to do.

Elena: On a more positive note, what’s your favorite aspect of being a young, female musician?

Caroline: I like when people are surprised. People shouldn’t be surprised that females can kick ass, but I like when people are surprised that I’m kind but can also perform. It should go without saying, but people tend to be really surprised. And also, just playing music with your friends. There’s literally nothing better than that. I’ll miss playing with so many people. And even, like, the energy you saw at the New Music show- there’s a reason there was such a good energy. It’s because we all support each other. Everyone really supports each other, and that’s kind of the best part: playing with your friends and just having fun. You do this because you love it. No one is a musician because they’re like, I need to make money. No one does that. People are only musicians because they love it. Well, at least I’d hope. I think that’s the best part.

Elena: You’re right because when you’re friendly or quiet people expect you to not have much power  or to not be talented or to not have much to show, and that must be a great feeling when you can prove people wrong. That may be a little spiteful, but I definitely take pleasure in proving people wrong when they underestimate me.

Caroline: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s also that. When people underestimate you or try to undermine you you’re like, no, I have my shit together. I’ll be okay. I like that. It’s fun to prove people wrong.

Elena: So, how often do you perform outside of school?

Caroline: This year in total I had like five or six out of school gigs, but I also had three gigs in school, or I’m going to have the third one coming up. It’s kind of hard to find time to rehearse, and the New Music gigs are a lot of work. It takes up a lot of my time; that’s why I’ve only had six this year.

Elena: But that’s still a lot. You’re so young, and you do so much.

Caroline: It can be hard with school. You also want to make sure people come, so you have to try not to book things at bad times.  But this school keeps you busy, you know?

Elena: It definitely does. Would you say you find trouble balancing your music and your school work, or do you put your music first?

Caroline: Oh, I put it first. I feel like no matter how hard I try I get okay grades. And sophomore year I busted my ass with school work. And also, like, there’s literally no reason if you’re going to music school. I knew I was going to do something in the arts, but I was always like, I need great grades to get a scholarship. And it didn’t help me in my school. They didn’t even care. They don’t care at all. We learn how to get good grades. We don’t learn. Period. What we’re learning in school is how to get good grades. That’s how I started to feel, and I was like, why am I doing this?

Elena: Yeah, sometimes it’s like you’re working towards a number and not for your own general knowledge of the material. We’re working towards averages.

Caroline: Yeah. Like, after the regent did I forget everything? Yes, I did. That’s when I stopped busting my ass, and when I stopped busting my ass I was less stressed out. Which resulted in me getting better grades. So, when you don’t stress as much… I don’t know. Just do what makes you happy but have everything under control. It can be really easy to get out of control. But you can have it under wraps without having anxiety about your grades, which is what I used to do. And I was just like, why am I doing this. So, yeah, it can be hard with school, but you should put what you love first, not what the school wants you to do.

Elena: What kind of music genre would you say you fit in?

Caroline: I don’t think I’m developed enough to fit in a genre yet. I feel like a baby. I feel like a large baby that doesn’t know what type of music she makes. Umm… I would say my album is like pop-rock. Now I’m writing more singer-songwriter stuff, and a lot of that has been turned into rock songs. I’ll write it by myself and feel like it’s small, but then it’ll become this big thing when I bring it to a band. And it’s usually rock once I bring it to a band. It’s really interesting how the vibe or even the genre of the song can change when you bring it to different people. I usually start out just writing singer-songwriter, and then it develops into rock.

Elena: That’s really cool. Going back to the energy of the New Music show, have you ever felt a similar energy when performing by yourself or in a smaller setting?

Caroline: My album release show was really fun. There was unexpectedly a lot of people there, and it made me feel really good. It was the first time anyone had moshed to my songs. I was like, that’s really cool that someone got hurt to one of my songs. Someone got shoved. That was really cool. I had a lot of people I loved there, and I was like, this is nice. There were a lot of musicians and a lot of people that I didn’t expect to be there. And that energy was great, but I have to work on keeping that energy when no one comes. I’ve done gigs where there’s, like, six people there. It can be hard to keep that energy, but that’s something I want to work on because it’s going to happen. I’m going to play to no one. That’s one of my biggest goals for twenty nineteen. It’s being able to perform well no matter what size the audience is.

Elena: What’s your biggest goal as a musician?

Caroline: Writing songs that really represent what I’m going through. I think that’s the least I can do. I feel like that’s the whole goal. I  think if you don’t write from the heart, it’s… ugh, I need to restart this. It’s so cheesy. My biggest goal is just to write things that show what I went through and show what I’m going through and hopefully resonate with someone. You know? That’s kind of it. I feel like in a way I write lyrics to make other people and myself feel less alone. It’s kind of interesting how that works simultaneously. You can really make others and yourself feel better at the same time. Even with “A Brief History of Time”, people have told me that they really liked and connected with my lyrics, and that’s a good feeling. It’s not just about the lyrics, it’s about the song as a whole. If it resonates with you, and you like it, and you get something from it, then that’s my goal.

Elena: That’s a really great goal. Especially as young people, we go through such similar things. They can also be so different, but at the root of we all have such similar problems and obstacles. It must be so cool to see that your music means something to other people. That must be such a great feeling.

Caroline: Yeah. I haven’t totally seen it yet, but I can definitely… when people talk to me about my lyrics I can tell that they appreciated my honesty. That’s a really special thing because we consume, consume, consume, and a lot of times we don’t listen. To make people not be mindless when they listen to music is a goal. It’s literally all a musician can ask for: someone to listen and not just hear. Listening is effort, too. It means the world when someone actually listens to your music. And it’s always surprising. People will be like, I listened to your song, and I really liked it, and I’ll be like, what? That’s so weird. I just never expect for anyone to actually care about it. It’s weird, but that’s a goal.

Elena: When releasing your album, would you say you were more scared or excited to have people listen to it?

Caroline: Oh, I was the worst. I had so much anxiety before putting out my album. It actually kept getting pushed. It was supposed to come out in September, and it came out in January. I was so nervous. I don’t have a wonderful ear, and that’s why I’m going to college for music. I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the mixes when I was getting them sent to me. It was weird. I had to have my friend listen to the mixes since he had a better ear than me, and that gave me anxiety. I was like, I know something’s wrong and I don’t have the words to describe it. He listened to the album and made a face at one of the mixes, and I started crying at just a face. It was so tense. That was my high school work, it means so much to me. By the time I put it out I was so tired. I was like, I hope my mom listens to this.

Elena: When I was listening to the album on spotify, I saw the amount of listeners, and I was like, good for her. Right now, I’m assuming your album is reaching the people you know at LaGuardia and in other NYC High Schools, but it’s just going to keep growing. So many people will hear your music and that’ll probably feel so rewarding.

Caroline: Hopefully that happens. I also really need to develop my social media presence. I just have to get to the point where people can tell the difference between my finsta and my rinsta. I definitely should get to that point. Maybe people would start listening to my music more if I have a more musician-like instagram. I’m actually starting a cover series with my friends this summer. I have a bunch of projects that I can’t talk about yet, but that should definitely help with that. I didn’t pay for crazy advertisements everywhere. I did an instagram advertisement and that was it. I didn’t have a manager to get 5,000 listens. I tried, but I don’t know enough to advertise myself.

Elena: I think you’re just going to keep on learning.

Caroline: Yeah, I’m also in school. Marketing yourself is like a full-time job. I was trying to social media manage, and that was so hard. Like following people who would want to listen to my album. I had to do that, and it was really time consuming. They pay people to do that. Social Media Manager is a whole job.

Elena: So are there any last things you want to put out there about the album, or making music in general?

Caroline: I’m trying to think. I wish I had started earlier and had been less scared to go into songwriting. That’s my last advice: do what you want. Be friendly. The best thing you can do as a musician and as a person is to be kind to people. I’ve seen people lose so many things because of their ego and because they’re not good to work with, and I think you can learn so much from other people. There’s no reason to be difficult. I was difficult while recording my album, but that’s because I was judging myself the whole time. People make mistakes. Also, not everything you write is going to be good. Most of it will probably be bad. People are always like, I can’t write a song. Everything I write is so bad. I’m just like, all right. Some of my songs suck too. Probably eighty percent of the songs I’ve written are terrible. I’m only showing the things I’m proud of. I don’t think fear of failure should ever stop anyone from trying to songwrite. I think it really does, especially at our school. There are so many vocal majors I’ve talked to who haven’t done it because they’re scared. There are a lot of people with good ears that’ve wasted them. You don’t have top be in New Music to create music. Just practice. Just go up to someone in a practice room. That’s basically what I did. Try to work with people that are creating music. It can be really good. That’s really it. Just go for it!

Alita: Battle Angel by Benkei Golden

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Alita: Battle Angel is a film about an AI girl in the 25th century who attempts to learn more about her past after she loses her memory of it. While visually stunning, the movie represents the Hollywood norm of failing to take risks, a major issue with big-budget blockbuster films in the last decade. It’s no secret that the majority of popular movies in recent years are based off of preexisting concepts and characters or are sequels to already popular films. Because many majorly successful franchises, such as Star Wars, already exist, the industry does not often justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund original movies when they can just continue to fund movies for already popular franchises. In other words, they have no reason to take any chances with something new because it’s easier to invest in a movie that they know will succeed. Alita was set up to be the start of another huge blockbuster franchise because of its stunning graphics and fresh concepts but will fail to do so because it lacks a solid plotline or script and fails to grab the viewer's attention.

The director is successful in creating the barebones structure required of a movie; the premise and characters are introduced and the dystopian setting is portrayed realistically and beautifully. The movie has innovative visual effects that the huge team of artists and visual technicians use to bring the city to life, making it feel as if the viewer was standing in it. In addition, the incredible and versatile acting of Rosa Salazar, the actress who portrays the protagonist Alita, combined with the hyper-realistic motion-capture technology perfectly fools audiences into forgetting that her character is CGI.

While the movies visuals are impressive, it takes more than fancy graphics to make a successful and interesting movie. The film suffers from massive script issues and a general lack of ability to grab the audience's attention, preventing it from becoming more than a visual spectacle. Alita's worst crime, however, is the seemingly implicit nod to there being a sequel to the film. A sequel is something a movie should have to earn, especially if it's a new series like Alita; setting up a film to require a sequel before reaching success takes away from the film’s individual ability to succeed and often makes its plotline shallow and unfulfilling. The film was produced with the expectation of getting a sequel, leaving it littered with plot holes and questions that are assumed will be answered later. Because of this, the movie is extremely confusing, and this disables any real story arc that could have been made; just as one problem appears to be solved, the movie opens up another can of worms, leaving the viewer with more questions than before. In the end, Alita: Battle Angel only succeeds in answering two questions:

Does this movie need a sequel?

Yes.

Does it deserve a sequel?

No.


Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind By Nadine Zhan

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Artwork by Maria Yaskun

There really aren’t many films out there quite like this one. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind radiates every single emotion and feeling you could possibly dream up of. Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski were perfect for each other but after a painful breakup, she undergoes a procedure that will erase him from her memory. Heartbroken, Joel does the same in spite but quickly realizes that he has made a mistake as he slowly begins to forget.

It’s a fantasy within a fantasy, portraying the realization of the ups and downs of true love; it submerges you into heartbreak and what it really means to be devoted to somebody. Every single scene was shot with a carefree and whimsical tone that at every moment, had a joyful feeling no matter how melancholy it got. In the end, through it all, it reminds you about what is most important: you should forever hold whatever is in your heart dear. You could forget about people, but the feeling that your heart exerts will stay with you forever, even if you’re unaware of it.


Movie Review: Aquaman by Benkei Golden

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Although it took a second time for me to full realize this, Aquaman is one of the most successful outcomes of a massive creative risk in past few years. The concept of an underwater sea world is too unrealistic and probably considered to even most superhero movie directors as impossible to put in a live-action movie. But not to director james wan. It's not meant to be taken seriously, obviously, as it features a Pitbull song with a montage of its lead actors coming out of a beach as if they were in a perfume ad. But the craft is taken seriously enough for nothing in the movie to look sloppy.

The effort and care that's put into the endless minutes of shots almost completely composed of CGI is all there. In fact, it's more than most superhero movies can say for themselves. we live in an era of movies in which it's hard to impress audiences with bombastic, grand CGI effects. Every superhero movie puts in constant effort to make its CGI look as realistic as possible. these audiences crave something new, and Aquaman was the perfect answer to that.

Perhaps Aquaman was the perfect vehicle to unveil these new styles of CGi. It's truly impossible to make some of the insane and wildly ridiculous things that happen in this movie look realistic. The visual artists behind this movie had no choice but to create a look so original and fresh simply because a movie on this scale had never been created before.

Aquaman also brings a new flavor into the DC cinematic universe as well as the entire superhero genre. a colorful cast of characters and a surprisingly charismatic and funny, yet well acted lead by Jason Momoa brings back hope to the embarrassing mess that this series has gotten itself into after Justice League. despite its story being quite noticeably similar to that of black panther (which was not too original in and of itself), it never feels bogs on and on, and is always engaging to viewers. with its extremely poor marketing (google images posters and whatnot), this seemed to be another disaster for the series, but ended up becoming its most successful, for good reason too.

In conclusion, more superhero movies and more movies in general should strive to be whatever Aquaman was. An amusement park of a fresh new dazzling world of the ocean. Like a video game but also like a music video. I know that's not what a movie should be but, that's what this was. and it was almost perfect.

The Girls: A Literary Study of Cult Culture and the Adolescent Heart by Elena Giardina

It’s 1969 and the social phenomenon that is the summer of love is two years long gone. The flower crowns and hazy fragmented memories bleed into the later 60s, but along the way the “make love, not war” incentive and surreal psychedelic subculture speed into a ferocious end that begins in California and ripples outwards to the entire country.

In her debut novel based on the Manson cult, The Girls, Emma Cline sets the story of fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd against a backdrop of evils simmering behind a seemingly peaceful mysticism. Evie, a girl who is coming of age in a monotonous loop of summer in the Californian suburbs, is suddenly jolted out of the normalities of her own life when she latches onto a group of older girls she meets in the beginning of a summer that could’ve been identical to all summers before if she hadn’t met them.

These girls, the girls, are wild and, to Evie, they are completely free. One day, the peculiar creatures that foster Evie’s growing obsession invite her into their van as well as their lifestyle. Amongst meeting Donna, Helen, and Roos, Evie finally meets the dark-haired girl that has been flitting through her mind like a flame: Suzanne. Suzanne draws Evie into her sticky spider web and binds her in grey silken cobwebs made of power, sex, excitement, acceptance, and love- what Evie Boyd craves.

With the character of Evie Boyd, Emma Cline examines the inner workings of the teenage female mind with a brilliantly untamed truthfulness. Evie is motivated by a need of human acceptance. She is at an age where she is blooming, yet she constantly feels repulsive and unwanted. She is a young girl who sees everyone as an example of what she is not; a young girl who seeks validation in every crack in the wall and corner of the room. When she arrives at the ranch, Evie’s feelings and notions intensify.

The ranch is the girls’ home- a place where violence bubbles in the greasy bedsheets and in the worn cotton dresses. It is a run down structure occupied by equally run down people. It lives within the girls as they are controlled by their leader- a man they refer to as Russell. Russell is the Charles Manson figure in Cline’s novel- holding power over the youths staying at the ranch in a way that one might hold a red light over the nose of a feline. He is intense and magnifying, and as his powers take effect on Evie, she unknowingly becomes entangled in life on the Ranch.

As Evie spends more time on the Ranch and less time in her mundane place in society, her mind is shaped by Suzanne and the Ranch atmosphere. Cline uses the Ranch as a symbol of the declining decade and the concept of obsession itself. Alike to Evie’s perception of Suzanne, the Ranch’s every flaw is glorified. As her fixation on Suzanne escalates, she reaches the borderline of a controlled life she always knew and a life filled with bursting violence and unhinged emotions.

Writing with a lusty mellowness, Emma Cline details the rising action of a girl approaching inconceivable violence. She enters a part of the teenage mind that most writers dare not explore and elucidates the fascinating vulnerability of the adolescent heart. With her unique coming-of-age story, Emma Cline pays tribute to young girls stuck in the tedium of juvenescence who realize that what goes on in their minds is taboo.

She details cult culture with the Manson cult as a model and does so with vivid and vibrant prose. Cline describes the emotions of unleashing from a previous life to speed towards a new one as if she had done so herself. The Girls changes the standards of letting go, redefines the values of adolescence, and examines the hidden ferocity of the human mind with a brilliance that is more scary than comforting.

A Physicist or an Artist? by Misty Chien

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“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman

When I first learned about Richard Feynman, the physicist, I made some unreasonable judgements against him because his work seemed so popularized and his personality full of showmanship. My judgements were unreasonable because I assumed he was ‘an ego-centric bastard’ before I read any of his work. I asked my physics teacher for book recommendations, and “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” was one of them; I was reluctant to read it. However, one morning out of random curiosity I asked my sculpture teacher if he had heard of Richard Feynman, and surprisingly he excitedly fished out his copy of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and let me borrow it. Now, I have to read SYJ!

The first few chapters are about Feynman’s childhood and adolescence growing up in New York and going to MIT. I didn’t enjoy that part so much; it made me feel enormously idle as a high schooler. It seems like I ought to be doing much more substantial things such as fixing radios and solving puzzles everyday, like Feynman did, but the closest thing I do to be more knowledgeble is reading nonfiction books. This may be relatable to those people our age who has a genius they look up to. Anyway. Once you get past the moment of self-reflection, you would realize it does not limit what you can become as a scientist, artist, musician, etc. Then, the book gets hilariously interesting with tales of Feynman’s pranks on his fellow MIT undergrads, his early teaching experiences, and his adventures as a physicist. They are very interesting because of Feynman’s vibrant personality and his curious take on things. He empirically criticized education systems after taking part in the State of California’s Curriculum Commission in the process of selecting math and science textbooks for public schools, and on a separate occasion when he was teaching undergraduate physics in Brazil. His commentary on “scientific integrity” applies to everything we do in life, and it should be something taken close to the heart.

I believe this book is relevant, especially since possibly many of us are interested in pursuing a scientific career in the near future. When he was working on a “top secret” project at Los Alamos, Feynman learned to play the Bongo drums because he was bored, and there was no entertainment of any kind. He also picked up on figure drawing when he was at Caltech and had a solo art show, which unfortunately ended his short art career. So, if you are an artist with scientific dreams, go ask Mr. Jung in the sculpture studio, “hEY do you know who Richard Feynman is?”

Here is a link to the PDF version if you would like to read it: http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/~amir/files/Richard_P_Feynman-Surely_Youre_Joking_Mr_Feynman_v5.pdf

Geek Love: A Terrifying Tale of Circus Freaks, Family, and Funhouse-Mirror Ideals  by Elena Giardina

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Book: Geek Love        By: Katherine Dunn

As I picked up the bright orange book in the “Recommended by the Staff” section at Barnes and Noble, I thought that the back cover would summarize some tawdry YA romance novel about nerds falling in love. What I found was the polar opposite. Although the “geeks” presented in the title appear in the novel, they aren’t Star Trek enthusiasts. Instead, they are circus freaks- oddities, curiosities, and geeks. Yes, there is romance, but the love referred to in the title is familial, as the story follows the lives of a carny family with extensive dysfunctions.

    Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, is a rich, horrifying, and extraordinarily captivating novel that does not get the attention it deserves. The National Book Award finalist follows the lives of the Binewskis, a family started by Al and Crystal Lil Binewski who, with various drugs and radioisotopes, decide to breed their own family freak show. Crystal Lil gives birth to four living children: Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers in place of limbs; Iphigenia and Electra, a pair of conjoined twins with contradictory personalities; Olympia, a hunchback albino dwarf who is also the narrator and protagonist of the tragic story; and Fortunato or “Chick” a plain-looking boy with telekinetic powers. These characters created by Dunn are astonishing, complex, and much more human than they appear. Each one is so deeply flawed and raw, and they leave the reader wondering who to consider their favorite.

    The book is narrated by Olympia, or “Oly” Binewski, daughter of Al and Crystal Lil. It takes place in the 1980’s when Oly is thirty-eight years old and living above her daughter, Miranda, who does not know about Oly’s real identity as her mother and former freak show performer.  Miranda is also a circus geek at heart with her hidden tail, but unlike the Binewski family she resents her oddities and wants to get her deformity surgically removed. Oly narrates her attempts to stop Miranda’s efforts to strip herself of the true Binewski identity while also flashing back to her childhood in the traveling freak show. As she reminisces about her past, she tells the long story of the rise and fall of the wondrous Binewski family.

    Bizarre and peculiar, the Binewski family is unlike any other. Al Binewski, former circus announcer, and Crystal Lil, a circus geek who bites the heads off of live chickens as an act, fall in love in their youth and agree to create their own cabinet of curiosities. Breeding their own genetically deformed children, the unusual bunch go on the road with their own family freak show, “Binewski’s Fabulon”. As the siblings grow older, the freak show grows and eventually becomes a mobile monument, a show that everyone wants to see and eventually be a part of. Oly’s memories cover the start and slow success of the show and the empire it creates. Her flashbacks cover the elaborate and confusing relationships between the siblings; their individual fights for fame, recognition, and power; and their impacts on each other and their audience/followers.

    The most interesting thing about Geek Love is the multiple themes present throughout the story. The Binewskis value their oddities and their differences from those they call “norms”, people who are connected to the rest of society. In that family, their mindset is “the stranger the better”. The siblings who are the oddest and the most unusual are considered more special, and inevitably more loved by their family members. They look down upon those who are normal and typical, and they glorify those with deformities and abstract bodies.

This novel completely changes bodily standards and family values. It tackles the ideas of genetic manipulation, cults, normalcy, and the quicksand effect of mediocrity. Dunn throws a punch and leaves readers clinging on to her words until the dismal, warped ending. Geek Love is a novel that changes perceptions and explores a group of people not focused on before. Read it-- and don’t hesitate to leave your mouth hanging open.

Current Cinema: Shape of Water by Lucy Jensen

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Film: The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: 

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

“The Shape of Water” provides a stark contrast to any other movie in theatres today. Its plot centers around a woman and her strange relationship with an aquatic creature, making it seem almost like a fairy tale. Its originality is refreshing after having seen numerous movies based on books that are completely uninspired. Having seen other movies by Guillermo del Toro in the past, I had no idea what to expect from this movie because of the widely varying types of movies that he had previously directed. After having seen it, I want nothing but to go back to the theatre to re-watch it.

 

The unparalleled visuals and music of this film reflect the time period that it is in, creating a new – and very intriguing – atmosphere.  Set in the 1960s, the costumes and settings create a nostalgic ambiance that fit the time period very well. The characters spend much time watching old-fashioned television and listening to jazz, submerging the audience in this world. It does an effective job of introducing the viewers to new and different concepts, which is necessary for the people that were not alive during that time. As someone that has grown up in the 21st century, I have been completely unfamiliar with life in the mid-1900s. With the inclusion of tensions between the Russians and Americans during the Cold War Era, the obvious homophobia and racism portrayed throughout the movie, and various struggles regarding new technology, the movie was completely immersed in its respective time period. I completely understood the entire story, regardless of the fact that I had been unacquainted with the setting and time period of the movie before watching it.

 

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A certain musical theme was repeated numerous times throughout the movie. This theme did not exactly fit into the genre of music from the 1960s, making it feel distant from the plot. The theme seemed timeless, which adds to the romantic and fantastic spirit of the movie. It also provided continuity throughout the movie, showing that while everything was changing, something seemed to remain the same. Though short, the melody was memorable, and I left the movie theatre with it playing in my mind.

I am a big fan of fairy tales because the force of good always seems to prevail. The end of “The Shape of Water” communicated the message that true love can be found anywhere. It also showed the importance of acceptance, even to animals or other living things that may not be exactly the same as humans are. This is much needed, especially in a time lacking universal tolerance. I came to the conclusion that this film was not only exceptionally pleasurable to watch, but it left the audience with many things to think about. I am glad that I was able to watch it while it was still in the theatres, and I cannot wait to see it again.

Current Theater: The Parisian Woman by Zina Louhaichy

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Everyone’s eyes stared at the light blue walls of the stage at the Hudson Theatre, anxiously awaiting the appearance of famed actress, Uma Thurman in The Parisian Woman. Thurman is known for her Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill films, both nominated for Golden Globe awards. This is only her second broadway appearance, for her first was in a 1999 production of The Misanthrope, put on by the Classic Stage Company. Written by Beau Willimon and directed by Pam MacKinnon, it details the rowdy life of Chloe, Thurman’s character, a charming socialite, and her romantic and political involvements, all to help her husband get to a high-level government position. Set in present day Washington D.C, Chloe has a husband and a few lovers on the side. Chloe is rich, beautiful, popular, and seemingly has it all, but does she?

The Parisian Woman, inspired by Henry François Becque’s 19th-century French play, “La Parisienne,” is a very entertaining play. The play has only five characters showing a lifestyle where only powerful friends are worth having. Chloe exists to manipulate people in furthering her husband’s political career and to make herself ever more important and powerful.

I enjoyed watching the acting, which seemed to be very natural and truthful. The two settings were the living room of a townhouse and a balcony scene at a political party.

There was a lengthy white couch which seemed to be a symbol for the development of relationships. It was the main place where Chloe would hold court and manipulate her lovers to do what she wanted them to do. The alcohol flowed freely and it was used as a relaxer during conversations.

The clothing communicated status and wealth in a subtle way. The performers were dressed in J-crew-esque clothing or business attire with a minimal amount of natural makeup.

I found The Parisian Woman an interesting play because of all the intertwining stories that led to be one grand outcome. One does not have to love politics to enjoy this play but it would help if he or she understood the way things work. At times I was confused and I did not understand what certain political terms meant. All in all, this production was beautifully done, the acting was wonderful, but the story did not really hold my interest.

RAW: Cannibalism Never Looked So Good by Esme Bowen

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Film: Raw 

Director: Julia Ducournau

Starring:

Garrance Marillier as Justine

Ella Rumpf as Alexia

 Rabah Nait Oufella as Adrien

The spookiest and best season of the year has come to a close and it is now time for me to crawl back into the damp hole I like to hibernate in until the next October. Before that, I would like to banshee scream one final time about how much I love the year’s best horror film, “RAW”. French director Julia Ducournau only further proves my theory that the best executed modern horror films are foreign. It’s completely possible that I’m just pretentious. Regardless, Ducournau creates a scintillating world that many are now infatuated with.

“RAW” centers around a young woman, Justine, starting her first year at veterinary school. It is revealed early in the film that she has been a devout vegetarian her entire life due to the influence of her mother. During a routine hazing ritual her first few days at the school, she is forced to consume raw rabbit kidney and and develops an insatiable lust for flesh. One of my favorite aspects of this film is that in all of its glory, it is a coming of age film. Justine leaves her home behind, which means that she is leaving parental influence behind as well. She sheds some of the shame instilled in her and begins to find the core of herself. Whether that be for the good of herself and others (or not), is slowly revealed throughout the film. When Justine begins to embrace her cannibalistic lust, she becomes noticeably more confident with herself and goes through a mini sexual revolution of her own. Through a series of milestones that are cannibalistic and sexual alike, you see her grow into herself and you find yourself rooting for this despite the illegal nature of her desires.

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“RAW” does not only honor the ghosts of films past with an irresistible plot line but also with an orchestral theme that feels bigger than the film itself and cinematography that makes viewers feel a range of emotions from unsettled to invigorated. Many of Ducournau’s shots are purely symbolic. This is usually an aspect of film I harbor a certain disdain for, due to the typically forced nature of symbolism. In my opinion, symbolism should be executed to as an extension of the plot, which is exactly what Ducournau succeeds in doing. In “RAW,” these shots seem to heighten the already pent up anxiety of the viewer. Upon further examination, shots of the same subject matter imitate Justine’s character development and foreshadow the morbid acts to come. Garance Marillier manages to eschew playing Justine as a flat “good girl gone bad” in the most extreme sense of the trope. Instead, at her best, Marillier seems to be electric, as if the the conflicting emotions she feels of lust, guilt, desire, and fear manage to create so much friction you can feel the crackling electricity through the screen.

Many may revel in the grotesque subject matter as well as the graphic cannibalistic storyline, so this film might not be for you if you don’t particularly enjoy watching straight up unadulterated cannibalism. But for those who can stomach this film (bonus points if you eat meat while watching it), congratulations, and welcome to the best horror film of 2017.

 

 

Current Cinema: Personal Shopper by Anastassia Kolchanov

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Film: Personal Shopper 

Director: Olivier Assayas 

Starring:

Kirsten Stewart as Maureen Cartwright

Sigrid Bouaziz as Lara

  Nora von Waldstätten as Kyra

    Having worked with the likes of Julianne Moore, Juliette Binoche, and Steve Carell, nowadays it’s hard to imagine that the mysterious and aloof Kirsten Stewart once made her debut to fame with the Twilight franchise. Of course, that’s all in the past, but in Olivier Assayas’ newest film, Personal Shopper, Stewart tips her hat to her supernatural past. 

    I had the pleasure to see the film’s opening night at IFC Center, which hosted a Q&A afterwards with the director, Olivier Assayas. Lining up with a bunch of movie enthusiasts and strangers in frigid weather is definitely not how most people imagine spending their Friday night, but I found the experience enjoyable and charming. The cozy and intimate theater set the stage for the ghostly dramatic thriller. 

    Assayas begins to fabricate his drama by placing the audience in the outskirts of Paris. A beautiful but slightly run down mansion is in the background as we see a young woman hugging her friend goodbye. Night falls as the woman sits in the dark, pierced by moonlight, and waits. Thus in such mysterious circumstances, we are introduced to Maureen Cartwright. Maureen (played by Kirsten Stewart) is a personal shopper by profession, but also considers herself a medium. She is waiting for a sign from her recently deceased brother, Louis, who strongly believed in the spiritual world. Maureen visits the mansion formerly owned by her brother to give him a last chance to communicate with her, but also to reassure her friend and his widow, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) that the house is cleansed spiritually. Typical of all good thrillers, however, Maureen slowly finds herself infringing on the spiritual world and digging deeper into the darkness of the fashion underworld. 

    Kirsten Stewart does a remarkable job of balancing the cold exterior of Maureen and her inner uncertainties. Stewart conveys the very image of a woman who seems to be only passing through life. She moves through the city of Paris much like a spirit herself: always on the move and lurking in the shadows. In this sense, Kirsten Stewart seems to instill a sense of otherworldliness and deeper meaning within the film. However, Stewart does lean heavily on the cool and edgy persona that seems to distract from the ulterior motive of the film. The emotionless glares and muttered words at times seem a bit cliché. Stewart does manage to successfully lead the audience deeper and deeper into the strangeness of the situation with only a hint of fabrication. The rest of the cast also supports the film well, as Maureen’s differences are highlighted within each unique encounter. Sigrid Bouaziz plays around with the character of Lara, who at first seems to be a caring woman, but then complicates the emotional storyline in an unexpected manner. The unison of the ensemble works well together, as they create a melancholy but intriguing film. 

The director Olivier Assayas and Kirsten Stewart 

The director Olivier Assayas and Kirsten Stewart 

    Many of the film's unique stylistic as well as technical choices were strongly influenced by Olivier Assayas. He revealed during the Q&A session that he simply fell in love with Kirsten’s method of acting after working with her on “The Clouds of Sils Maria” and wrote the screenplay with her in mind. His initial premise for the film was his curiosity surrounding the séances of the early 20th century. He modeled the spirit that appears in the film after photographs taken by spiritualists of the era. His fascinating curiosity with spiritualism was certainly evident through out the film and added another layer to the piece. Assayas also had a unique way of working with information. There are several portions of the film that are portrayed in an ambiguous manner, which he insists he does purposefully. Assayas stated that he wanted for the audience to fabricate their own stories and found it much more compelling to leave certain elements of the story unknown. His work with Kirsten as well as his innate curiosity won him the “Best Director” award from the “Official Competition” Jury at the 69th edition of the Cannes International Film Festival. 

    I watched the film with great enjoyment and intrigue, but at times it felt either a bit too melodramatic or lagging in plot. The topic of the film is quite engrossing and it was interesting to see how the theme of uncertainty and fear played through out the movie. I was captivated by it, and walked out of the theater with a certain sense of enlightenment. The film certainly expresses a unique voice and an interesting storyline; however, it does not carry within itself an intense emotional force. The film is an absolute delight to watch, and is perfect to see on a cold Friday evening. 

    

The Woman Who Made "The Women Who Made New York" by Gertie-Pearl Zwick-Schachter

Author Julie Scelfo discusses the cultural and economic diversity of New York City and the women who deserve the credit for it.

Julie Scelfo and The Women Who Made New York

Julie Scelfo and The Women Who Made New York

This is an anxious but important time for women throughout the United States of America. Nearly 100 years after women got the right to vote, the country came within a throwing distance to having a female president. President-Elect Donald Trump has repeatedly demeaned women and has been accused of assaulting several women. Many wonder how and why he was elected.

 

Scelfo thinks it’s the perfect time to reflect on the pioneering, often little-known women who have worked ceaselessly to make the city in which we live. Her book might just inspire young women, and young men too, to write the next chapter in our city’s history. It certainly inscribes these driven women into previously male-dominated history.

 

In a recent email conversation, LagMag asked Scelfo about her inspiration for the book, the recent election and why it’s more important than ever to be aware of the power and importance of pioneering women and their allies in 2016 and beyond.

 

Gertie-Pearl Zwick-Schachter: Some of the women you profile, like Gloria Steinem and Tina Fey are well known. But others, like Jane Grant, a feminist New York Times writer, and Julie Richman, a rare 17th century female high school graduate and a dedicated educator, are names I’d never seen before.  Why haven’t I learned about these women in school or read about them?

 

Juie Scelfo:  For centuries, human history was recorded primarily by males, and it primarily reflected their perspective.

 

GZ: How did the recent presidential election influence your book?

 

JS: The outcome of the recent presidential election did not influence my book as the book went to press back in June. However, Hillary Clinton's historic candidacy did cause me to think more about all the social shifts that came before. Just 100 years ago, American women were denied the right to vote! Decades of work by women – and some men – to achieve suffrage. Several other women have run for national office prior to Hillary Clinton's candidacy – including Victoria Woodhull, Shirley Chisholm and Gerladine Ferraro--and all of them were from New York.

 

GZ: What was your goal in writing this book? What would you like to inspire in a reader?

 

JS: I hope the book inspires readers to want to learn more about the women who helped shape history, and I also hope it helps them realize historical narratives are imperfect: meaning no one history can possibly tell the whole story of all the human and social complexities.

 

GZ: In the book, you quote Elizabeth Blackwell, saying: "I understand now why this life has never been lived before. It is hard, with no support but a high purpose, to love against every species of social opposition." What do you believe gave these women the strength and courage to be the first of their kind in whatever field they chose?  What do you think helped them to continue on their course despite the difficulties?

 

JS: Most of these women were driven to serve others. Either they were artists with a gift that had to come out, or they were big-hearted souls who really wanted to make the world a better place in some way. So no matter how hard things got--and they sure got hard for Susan B. Anthony, Nellie Bly, Dr. Blackwell, etc.--they kept focused on their goal of helping others.

 

GZ: Why do you believe it has been so difficult, and has taken so long, to have our first female president? Why do you think we didn’t elect our first female president this year, when we came so close, and why did our country instead choose to elect a president who has made sexist and misogynistic statements?

 

JS: I think that a primary reason for misogyny, and racism, and most other forms of hate is...fear. I think that one way that humans give themselves an identity is by defining what they are NOT. So while it can be difficult to define masculinity, there's centuries of describing men as not-female; not-feminine. Think also of the language of race: white people used to call African-Americans "colored" (which means not-white). For men who had built their identity on being in control and dominating decisions, it can be very difficult to accept that women are equal. However, there are indigenous societies where this is not the norm, suggesting that these beliefs are not inherent but acquired.

 

GZ: In your section about Gloria Steinem, you describe her as having an “awakening of her feminist consciousness.” Do you believe we’ve seen any modern day figures have similar awakenings, specifically in light of the recent election?

 

JS: Many. In a strange way I think Donald Trump has been very helpful for feminism, as he took sexism and misogyny (which is often hidden and unseen) and made it public in a very startling way. I think he has made many, many more people aware of the existence of these feelings and behaviors.

 

GZ:  Why did you include a section about female crooks? People do not view crooks as inspiring, because they have an extremely negative connotation in our society, and I believe rightly so. Why did you choose to include this chapter?

 

JS: While I don't think the CROOKS are inspiring, I do think that crime is a real part of NYC's history, and also a real part of how disenfranchised people cope with their circumstance. Several of the criminals were driven to their deeds out of a need for work; and the smuggling of immigrants by Sister Ping continues to be seen by many as heroic, as she helped Fujianese escape desperate poverty. Another goal of the book is (hopefully) to help readers reconsider how they define things, or what labels they give to people and behaviors. The chapter on CROOKS raises precisely the question of whose perspective matters most.

 

GZ: What was your inspiration for this book?

 

JS: The idea for the book originated with the executive editor of Seal Press, which is a small publishing house in Berkeley California that publishes only women authors. She noticed an appetite among readers for more information about important women, and had seen the work of illustrator Hallie Heald, and decided that a pairing of portraits and biographies could make a beautiful and inspiring book.

 

GZ: I'm sure there are many more important women who didn't quite make the cut for your book. What criteria did you use to choose the women that you featured?

 

JS: This was one of the most challenging parts for me. My selections reflect my idea of what New York City is.  All of the women featured in the book played a role in making an important part of NYC. In other words, if these women and had not done what they did, NYC would not be the same place.

 

The Women Who Made New York is available at independent bookstores and on Amazon.  If you purchase it on Amazon using this link, a portion of the sales will benefit LaGuardia Arts https://smile.amazon.com/Women-Who-Made-New-York/dp/1580056539/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479680827&sr=8-1&keywords=women+who+made+new+york

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

by Aleksandra Ambroziak

Author - Erin Morgenstern
Genre 
– Fantasy, Romance
Rating - 10/10
 

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

 

 

 

 

Magic. Romance. Victorian attire. The circus. Mystery. Death. And beautiful writing. 
What more could a goth literature enthusiast ask for? 
Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus begins with the most important characters: you and the circus. 
"The circus arrives without warning..." 
You see The Circus of Dreams pop up overnight. You're compelled to go. And therefore, you do so. 
But this story isn't about you. 


It's very hard to describe The Night Circus in so many words without utterly confusing you. I can say over and over again that the diction was flawless, that the characters were dimensional and complex, and every element served a coherent purpose. But that wouldn't tell you anything about it. That's part of the beauty of Morgenstern's writing: When you read the novel, everything is so fluid, so calm, and everything flows through you as if the novel was a suave song. 
But the minute you try to put it into your own words, it is nearly impossible. 
Morgenstern creates multiple complex plots. There are tiny interludes that speak in second person, of yourself, moving through the circus as a spectator, seeing what everyone else sees. 
The main story revolves around Celia and Marco, beginning at their young ages and going through their upbringings. They are ultimately pieces of a game played by their mentors, and they must train in their elements of magic until only a victor is left standing. Inevitably, they fall in love. And then what happens? 
Now, by only saying that, it seems like there are more plot holes than one can count. But Morgenstern not only fixes them, but she creates a world in which they never exist. All the other plot points, characters, events, and consistent fantasies make for a whole story. It can be unnerving sometimes in the world of fantasy, because a deus ex machina is almost always present. Morgenstern's expert plot creation never needs to invoke one, and all events tie together like the ribbon on a mysterious present. 
There isn't much more to say since only the novel can speak for itself. As said before, that is the beauty of Morgenstern's writing. If you want to be sucked away into a world in which it you feel one with every character, where you want to become a rêveur, and where you never want to leave, then pick up a copy. Because I can guarentee you this book will change the way you read all others.

The Theory of Everything

Film: The Theory of Everything 

Director: James Marsh 

Starring: Eddie Redmayne as Stepehn Hawking

                Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking

After recently watching several movies on Netflix, I began to question myself within each genre, “have I seen a movie better than this one?” This was not a rhetorical question, as I posed it to myself seriously.

I found the “yes” to answer my question within the romance genre: The Theory of Everything, which stars the Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne and the talented actress Felicity Jones.  

The movie itself is categorized as a romance and biopic--where Eddie Redmayne portrays the young and old Stephen Hawkings. Of course, movies tend to not be as reliable when studying a certain topic (in this case, Stephen Hawking’s life). There must be some scenes in the movie that were not included in his life or the autobiography of his first wife, Jane Wilde, which the movie is based on. 

However, watching this movie required several boxes of tissues, and a supply of hearts (to replace the ones that shattered like glass pieces in every heartwarming or depressing scene). I also enjoyed the movie thanks to the acting skills of the British main actors, the on-screen chemistry, the setting, and the cinematic effects - down to everything beyond the theory of making a movie with love, dedication, and devotion.  

One of my friends, who rarely ever watches romance movies (since she prefers watching action, thrillers, and horror), mentioned to me that she was “...dying to watch this one specific movie [The Theory of Everything]”. I was fully surprised with this comment. I looked at this movie from her perspective and realized what was so attractive about the movie. It tells the story of a genius, a man who is disabled, whose only option is giving up--but he doesn’t. Stephen Hawking embraced the situation, even though it severely depressed him. He forced himself to run his own errands and stand up with his own might and hard work. 

It is a movie that touches beyond the audience’s heart - it touches the soul. Whether you enjoy romance movies or not, ANY living human being with a working heart will enjoy it and watch it over and over again.  

What is the theory of everything? What drives the theory of everything? Maybe it’s the pursuit of happiness... or maybe it’s something else that individuals can take away from this movie for themselves.

The Fisher King

Film: The Fisher King

Director: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jeff Bridges as Jack

                Robin Williams as Parry

It is the month of May, which means that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of Robin Williams, one of the most talented and hilarious comedians of both stage and screen. Known for his versatility and brilliant improvisations, Williams tragically committed suicide on August 11th, 2014. I have cherished (and will continue to do so for years to come) many of his films targeted towards families, including AladdinJumanji, Night at the Museum and Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams breathed life into these films, providing energy and entertainment for children without ever condescending them. However, shortly after he passed away, I realized that I had only made a slight dent in his diverse filmography. I started to obsessively watch his films with higher ratings, including Good Morning VietnamGood Will Hunting and the unsettling One Hour Photo. Several months later, I came across one film on his IMDB page that I had never heard of before: The Fisher King, directed by Terry Gilliam in 1991. Interested in the website’s synopsis, I decided to rent it from my library (and no, I still don't have a Netflix account). Upon viewing the film, I grew fascinated by it is simultaneous creatively inspired concept and overstuffed, messy execution.

The film’s flawed protagonist is Jack Lucas, a blue-collar radio jock played by Jeff Bridges. One evening, he insults an audience member on air to the point where he commits mass-murder (and ultimately kills himself) at a restaurant. As a result, Jack is wracked with guilt and becomes depressed and suicidal. Several years later, he is saved from a group of murderous muggers by Parry, a schizophrenic homeless man played by Robin Williams. As Parry and Jack develop a reluctant friendship, Jack discovers that Parry’s wife was a victim of the murder that he inadvertently caused. Throughout the film, Jack attempts to redeem himself through acts of kindness, including taking care of and finding a date (played by Amanda Plummer) for Parry.

This film has several commendable elements, particularly its performances. Jeff Bridges adds a level of nuance to Jack, who on paper seems like a one-dimensional character. Bridges allows the audience to empathize with the misanthropic, often inebriated Jack, and maintains a consistently subtle performance. In addition, he has charming chemistry with his romantic interest played by Mercedes Ruehl. Both Bridges and Ruehl have a camaraderie that makes them watchable, despite Ruehl’s irritating Queens drawl. Robin Williams is wonderfully whimsical as Parry, and contributes a devoted dramatic performance along with his well-improvised humor. He makes Parry a compelling and intriguing character, and one cannot help but chuckle at his loud, childlike antics. Films like these often have humorous side characters, and The Fisher King is no exception. The late Michael Jeter, known for playing Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street from 2000 to 2003, is hilarious and oddly endearing as a homeless man gleefully obsessed with Cabaret singing. Jeter, like Williams, was a highly creative comedian and actor, and seamlessly blended loud routines with shadows of depth. Amanda Plummer is equally absorbing as Parry’s withdrawn and awkward love interest Lydia. Although Lydia masks her insecurities with a waspish authority, Plummer makes Lydia a likeable character. In addition, she has charismatic chemistry with Williams, as Parry slavishly adores the reclusive Lydia.

Another one of The Fisher King’s highlights is its visual style. Nearly every scene contains beautiful, extravagant and intricate set-pieces. An instance of this is a scene where Parry shows Jack his “home” in the run-down boiler room of his former apartment building. We see Parry’s collection of various objects, including books, tools, papers, and miscellaneous trinkets. They are all arranged in in an almost aggressively unrealistic (as we know that most homeless men do not poetically store their significant possessions in pre-arranged piles) way. However, as the entire movie maintains a fantastical and slightly surreal tone, sets like these work in The Fisher King’s favor. Another element of the film’s visual style I adore is its inventive imagery. For example, throughout the movie, Parry’s depression and repressed memories of his wife dying before his eyes manifest themselves in the form of a terrifying red knight, chasing him around New York City. This is because Parry adores the eponymous Fisher King, an Arthurian legend centered around the protection and use of the Holy Grail as a lifesaving device. Parry, through his delusions, believes that this mythical tale is real, and sees himself as the man who will find the Grail. Utilizing the legend of the Fisher King as a framing device is a creative idea, and adds a level of mysticism to the film.

Unfortunately, The Fisher King is not without flaws. The film’s direction is, simply put, uneven--as I have mentioned before, Terry Gilliam, known for directing Brazil and being a member of the Monty Python troupe, effectively directs his actors to enthralling and distinct performances. The aforementioned sets and visual style, though highly idealized, suit the film’s eccentric tone. However, The Fisher King has a running time of two hours and seventeen minutes, which could easily have been shortened to a hundred minutes. Often, it seems as though the film is stalling. Much like Parry and his outrageous and unfocused delusions, this movie invents twists and turns in the form of subplots that only succeed in aggravating audience members. Other times, The Fisher Kingspends too long on segments that are either never referenced again or glanced over for later development (an example of this is a scene where Michael Jeter’s cabaret singer belts out a musical number in a quiet office space and is thrown out). Another flaw in The Fisher King is its lack of pacing. At certain points, the film moves quickly from scene to scene, while at others, scenes drag for several minutes too long, and the characters act absurd for the sake of prolonging such scenes. This often results in jarring tonal (from cloying silly to brutally dark) as well as pacing shifts, and makes for an occasionally uncomfortable viewing experience.

The Fisher King is a film that is far from perfect. It is overlong, middling and occasionally suffers from a lack of consistent pacing. However, its stunning performances from a spectacular cast (particularly Robin Williams), gorgeous imagery and set-pieces more than make up for its problematic elements. 

And Robin? We ain’t never had a friend like you.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

by Charlotte Force

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance

Rating: 7/10

“In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”       

Never again will I regard fireplaces in the same way. They are no longer simply there to roast chestnuts and provide light for reading – now, fireplaces are all named Calcifer. They have the power to move castles, warm baths, break curses, and warm hearts.

The Book unto Itself

Sophie Hatter and Wizard Howl are beautifully flawed characters. You learn to love them as they learn to love each other, in this winding, fantastical fairy tale. Howl is a hopeless ladies-man who stubbornly evades commitments (as Sophie puts it, he’s a “slither-outer”), and Sophie

In the land of Ingary, where the novel is set, it is well-known that the eldest child of any family is destined to a dull life at home, and to never make their fortune. Our protagonist, Sophie, is the eldest of three sisters and quite resigned to that fate. She quite believes she is not meant for any sort of greatness, which transforms all of her character traits into faults or limitations. Her intelligence becomes dissatisfaction, her courage becomes idiocy, her determination becomes stubbornness, and she hides her beauty behind drear dresses and grey cloaks.

Sophie doesn’t get out much – she begins an apprenticeship at her family’s hat shop, and eventually spends all of her time in the back, sewing hats day after day after day. She doesn’t see her talent, and the success of her hats in her hometown of Market Chipping  – all she sees is the dismal, every day drudgery of the life she leads. Sophie gradually fades until one day, for a reason unbeknownst to her, the wickedest witch of all of Ingary comes into the hat shop and transforms her into an old woman.

This is the moment that flips Sophie’s life on its head. The many events throughout the book after this metamorphosis are a series of discoveries that change Sophie into the woman she’s meant to be. The first discoveries are small: a moving Castle, a fire named Calcifer, and a wizard’s apprentice named Michael. Soon enough, Sophie is meeting new people every day, from a capricious wizard named Howl, to old fisherman, to the King of Ingary, to an animated scarecrow, to Ms. Pentstemmon - Howl’s old professor of Magic. She visits the town of Porthaven, the capital Kingsbury, and a mysterious land called “Wales”. As she discovers these people and places outside of herself, Sophie slowly discovers something inside of herself: self-love, and self-respect. These themes of mystery and discovery are what drive book and make Howl’s Moving Castle a veritable enchantment of a novel.

 

The Book vs. The Movie

Most people know Wizard Howl, Calcifer, and Sophie Hatter from Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Howl’s Moving Castle, but that fantastical adventure did not spring forth out of nowhere. The movie is a loose adaptation of the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones (mostly of events in the first half of the book). Ingary is a billowing whirl of colour and industry in both adaptations, but there is a grit and imperfection to the characters of the novel that the movie characters lack. There are other differences: Sophie’s hair is not brown in the book – in fact, it matches Howl’s ever-changing hair at one point. Michael is not a little boy, as depicted in the movies – however, he does have a cloak that gives him the appearance of a man. Sophie does not immediately befriend scarecrow – she and it have quite an interesting relationship. It was these little differences that I relished: they took away from neither the book, nor the movie. They just made each experience a little richer, and a little more magical. Worry not if you’ve seen the movie and fear it will ruin the book – certain elements are beautifully brought to life in the movie, including the interior of Howl’s castle, the field of flowers on the edge of the Waste, and the characters themselves. Nevertheless, the book and movie diverge more than they converge, and in reality feed into each other and make for an even better experience.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

by Charlotte Force

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Charles Vess

Rating: 10/10

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

“A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ Pointless, really... ‘Do the stars gaze back?’ Now, that's a question.”

Written in the pre-Tolkien, prosaic style of English fairytales, Stardust by Neil Gaiman fulfills all expectations of the fictional universe, and exceeds expectations in execution. If you want stars, he’ll give you sparkling maidens fallen from the sky. If you want mountains, he’ll give you a giant who fell asleep one day, who then became Mount Head, Mount Belly, and whose foothills are called the Feet. If you want magic, he’ll give you crystal flowers with properties beyond reckoning. If you want love stories, he’ll give you a man in a top-hat that always fulfills his debts. If you want imagination by the bushel and a wink on the side, read a book by Neil Gaiman.

Stardust is the story of Dunstan Thorn’s Heart’s Desire, which produces a series of events that unroll through the unlikely and destined journey of his son, Tristran Thorn. As the narrative unfolds, you learn never to trust a label – a shop-boy may very well turn out to have a swash-buckling, star-seducing heart.

Tristran Thorn grew up in the predictable, grey village of Wall, which every nine years is painted with a rainbow of fairy magic as the Market comes to town, and people from around the Worlds come to trade in goods, stories, and enchantments. You see, the seemingly-average village of Wall is actually the border between our world and the realm of Faerie.

Tristran is launched into the world-across-the-Wall on a quest to win the favour of his lady-love, Victoria Forester: “the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around”. He ventures into a seemingly strange world because, as he puts it, “every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and, in his head, a minstrel.” Our hero searches for a star, fallen deep within the borders of Faerie. It is a borderless realm, comprised of every creature and land whose existence has been ‘disproved’ by the scientific ‘authorities’ of our world. There’s an element of Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland to the characters of the land of Faerie, who hide meanings in their turn-of-phrases and embrace the weird and wonderful. Along the way, Tristran discovers that he feels much more at home with the people of Faerie than back in Wall, where his sister Louisa would make fun of him for entertaining the notion that clouds in the distance could in fact be a heard of celestial sheep. In Faerie, however, a ship is a flying vessel, and lightning may be harvested, and a tree can be a port-city. In Faerie, the only precaution you must take when travelling is to look out for witches and not give away your destination.

I’m determined to make my way to England and look long and hard for the village of Wall, and Faerie beyond it. If you’re interested in visiting the kingdom of Stormhold, walking in the clouds, and travelling leagues by candlelight, I suggest that you pick up Stardust, and start the search for Faerie with me. If anyone asks where you’re going on your quest, answer “In front of me”. If anyone asks from whence you’ve come, answer “From behind me”. If anyone asks why you’ve gone and when you’ll be back, answer “Have been unavoidably detained by the world. Expect me when you see me.”

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

by Charlotte Force

Author: Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket 

Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Rating: 8/10

Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Epistolary Novel

"I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy."

If you look at any broken relationship with perspective, at least a facet of it is funny:

‘Why did we dance on that table?”,

‘Why did we even get together?,

and ‘God I hated his hair gel!”,

are a few examples of things, which with hugs, rebounds, and dollops of time, seem comedic – but in the aftermath of a bad breakup, nothing in the world is funny. Everything is fit for a Greek tragedy. That however, does not make for light, or necessarily pleasant, reading. That is where Daniel Handler’s wit comes into play, and makes this novel a success: despite the often dramatic, heart-wrenching, or awkward nature of high school romance and heartbreak, Min’s voice resonates in a witty, dry way, which spins the heavy subject matter in a palatable light.

The very title of this book ‘spoils’ the ending: Min and Ed break up. To be honest, it’s to be expected. They’re young – in high school, and very, very different people. Min is an “arty” film-expert, fluently versed in the fictional silver-screen world that Handler created for the book. Ed is the typical leather jacket-sporting, bonfire-frequenting, shot-drinking jock. Yet, as in every relationship or book: you don’t want them to break up.

Why We Broke Up is a lengthy letter from Min to Ed, the ex-boyfriend. It’s written, as Min says, with a pen running out of ink, in a coffee shop, next to her best-friend Al. Along with the letter comes a box of memorabilia from the Relationship: rose petals, movie tickets, bottle caps, a match box, a salt shaker… et cetera (which accompany the letter through illustrations by Maira Kalman). Min’s got an “Ed Box”, and she’s giving it back (or more aptly put, flunking it at Ed’s doorstep from Al’s car).

Through the Ed Box, Min recounts the “How We Met” to the “First Date” to the “First Kiss” to the to the “First Time”… but also narrates the “First Fight” to the “When We Should Have Broken Up” to, of course, the “Why We Broke Up”.

It’s a relationship like any other, and like no other, and that’s what makes it so believable, and thus relatable. If you’re going through a break-up, have ever gone through a break-up, or one day, maybe, will go through a break-up, you should probably read this. It’s honest, witty, gorgeous, and brilliantly executed – complete with almost-real characters, and how it feels to be the youngest couple in a swanky jazz club.

The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze

by Sam Gallagher

princess.jpg

Author: Galaxy Craze

Rating: 8/10

Genre: Adventure, Dystopian, Teen Fiction

 

The Last Princess is a fast paced novel involving Earth some time in the future after a tragic event called “The Seventeen Days.” This was a major catastrophic event where the entire world underwent a series of natural disasters, ruining the world as we know it today- technology, abundant food supplies, and other natural resources.

Sixteen year-old Eliza is the courageous, headstrong princess of post-apocalyptic England. At the beginning of the story, it is revealed that Elizabeth and the royal family are under attack from the vicious General Cornelius Hollister and his rebellion. She ventures throughout London (as well as Scotland), developing a plan to enact revenge upon Hollister after her mother’s tragic death. Elizabeth who is eager to find and kill the general, enlists in his rebellion to get closer to her target. Along the way, she encounters a hypnotizing young soldier of the rebellion, and faces health scares, and disastrous raids. Join Elizabeth on her perilous ventures as you delve into this book.

For the most part, this book was a fantastic read. Despite its corny title, it is much more mature than one would expect. It’s very different from many of the popular dystopian/teen fiction novels that have been published, such as Divergent or the Hunger Games, in that it focuses less on a love interest between two main characters and more on the challenges that someone would have to face within the world of the novel. The ending of the book is satisfying and leaves the reader wanting more; a sequel is desirable and from extensive research, one could possibly be in the making!

Edit: A sequel has now been published as of 2015, called "Invasion".

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

by Charlotte Force

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Author: Stephen Chbosky

Rating: 9/10

Genre: Teen Fiction, Slice of Life, Romance, Teenage Angst, Epistolary Novel

“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”  

It’s the very first day of high school. Charlie is terrified. His older brother has gone off to college. His sister, a senior, has made it very clear that she is not going to babysit him. He hasn’t got many friends… in fact, he hasn’t got any, until his English teacher offers to be his friend, but as Charlie puts it: “If my English teacher is the only friend I make today, that’ll be sorta depressing."

Charlie sees this. He sees the people he used to be friends with and sees what has changed them and wonders if they’ll continue to change. Hewonders about his parents’ lives, he wonders about everyone. He sees one of his classmate’s dismay at being called “Nobody” when everyone else just carries on with the joke. He sees, he sees, he wonders. But Charlie doesn’t really “say”.

Not until he gets home, and writes letters to an unknown recipient. The person that “could have hooked up with that one person at that party that one time but didn’t”, whom Charlie says reassures him in that small act that there are okay people in the world. He recounts his experiences with first love, lust, drugs, friendship, fighting, and most importantly, “participating”. This compilation of letters makes up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of the most heart-wrenchingly honest accounts of what it’s like to see and not say; the tumultuous first year of high school of a wallflower.

A short while after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I saw in an interview that Stephen Cbosky, the author, received a fan letter once saying “The first time I ever felt loved was when I read this book”.

I can’t say I’m unloved, so I can’t say that’s entirely true in my case. I also can’t say I have had as negative (and psychedelic) experiences as Charlie, so I can’t say I completely relate to the character himself. Yet, as I received Charlie’s letters in the pages of Chbosky’s novel (the summer before my own freshman year) I felt truly and completely understood, amazingly enough, by a book. The way Charlie describes his emotions when addressing the reader described some of my own emotions so well that is was actually a comfort to read. Teenagers often feel lonely in their experiences and emotions, and Charlie is a reassuring proof to everyone that reads his letters that they are, in fact, not alone. That’s what makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower one of the most influential books for teenagers of our generation; it acts as an infallibly honest and understanding companion for anyone who needs it. If you’re in the market for such a companion - a story of self-discovery, teenage angst and self-love, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the book for you.