Wednesday, August 21, 2019

[Book] The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Book cover
This is a book that I've known about for most of my life, and Tom Sawyer is a character that I've heard referenced through my entire life.  A fairly large area of Disney's Magic Kingdom is dedicated to this book; one of my favorite places to hang out for an hour.  Yet, nothing of the story was spoiled for me.

First and foremost, the "n word" appears nine times through the text, four of them clustered together in two adjacent paragraphs of dialog.  Frankly, it sucks, and really does sully the experience of the book as well as my opinion of the Author.  There are a few black slave characters in the book, but none are given depth or consideration. As I also said in my review of Peter Pan, the slur was as much a disservice to black Americans then (only a decade from emancipation) as it is today.

The villain of the novel is Injun Joe, referred to as half-breed without explanation as best as I recall.  Not quite as painful as Peter Pan, but still several "Indian" stereotype checkboxes are used for this character.

A modern reader literally has to "get over" both of these things to be able to see the story.  Yet, this story has both of these things, and I suddenly understand why I've never heard the story before.  It is an archive of prejudices that went out of style for mainstream America before I was born, featuring the title character lying, skipping school, stealing, running away, smoking tobacco and somehow, ending up without lasting consequence.

Past the prejudices, the writing is good, and mostly everything feels like it could have happened.  The first half of the book drags on, and there isn't much adventure, mostly endless mischief.  Tom Sawyer does grow some in the book, but not as much as I'd expect.  This book kept my interest, but mostly because of the historic context.  This is, in part, how children acted in the 1830s, and what a small Missouri town about a mile off the Mississippi river was like.  Many of the places written about are real, and I'm fond of history.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the book.  There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the parts that made me uncomfortable pretty much outweigh the overall experience.  If you've read the book, and think I have it wrong, let me know... I'm happy to hear from others.



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

[Book] Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Book Cover
This is the final book of the Defy the Stars trilogy (start with reviews of book one and two).  There are probably mild spoilers for the first and one major spoiler for the second book in this review of book three, so please proceed with that in mind.

As I wrote in my review of Defy the Worlds, I do not recommend diving into this book without reading the previous two first.  While this book could stand alone, it does not include as much exposition about the previous events as I'm used to (in other serial novels).  Also, to be honest, the other books were great, and it would be a shame to skip them just to get to the end.

This book starts with Noemi fatally injured, and in a stasis chamber to keep her alive while Abel makes a plan to save her life, but trading his own in the process.  This self-sacrificing cross-plan is a trope, even within these novels, but I cannot pretend that real people don't often repeat the same patterns.  It was, however, the one painfully predictable point in an otherwise great story arc.

Meanwhile, in retaliation against Earth, some of the leadership of Genesis have hatched a secret plan to defeat Earth once and for-all, but one of the members of this plan commits treason and reveals the plan to...  Not going to spoil that bit.  Finally, there was one technical hurdle that was described in some depth during book 2 about how tricky it is to land on Haven.  That was, well, completely ignored (or forgotten) in book 3, and that also bothered me.

I liked this book the least of the three, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  Overall, this is the ending that the series needs, and I liked a lot more about it than my two nit-picks.  That is, I recommend the whole series.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

[Book] Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Book cover
Originally a play, then released in book form as Peter and Wendy, this book is the basis of Disney's cartoon movie, Peter Pan.  The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book with the exception that Disney's version doesn't portray deaths that the book does.

Problematic doesn't begin to describe this experience.  Like a lot of classic literature, defenders will point out that this is a product of its time.  Yet, I was outwardly embarrassed while reading sections of this by just how far out of touch it is.

As much as Wendy was a main character, her experience of Neverland, a fantasy/dream world, included absolutely everyone wanting her to act as their mother, but included actual work, mending everyone else's clothes.

Then there is the Native Americans of imagination land.  Named as a racial slur*, the Piccaninny Tribe follows terrible stereo-types, and a major sub-plot puts Peter Pan as their white savior, leaving near half of the tribe to sacrifice themselves for Pan and the Lost Boys, later.  *Some online sources suggest that the term wasn't a slur until much later, but an awareness of the purveyor has rarely made the recipient feel better.

Read this if you have to, but I don't recommend it.  It's not the worst, or even most problematic book I've read, and parts of it are ripe for stealing for your own stories (since this isn't covered by copyright in most countries these days).  Worse, I'm happy I read it, if only that I can complain about it here.

If you've read it, let me know what you think I got wrong.