I love Gregory Maguire and have no intention of reading any of his books more than once.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was an odd blend of historical fiction and magical realism that offered an interesting take on the Cinderella myth. The part I connected with was the plight of main character and aforementioned ugly stepsister, Iris.
The conceit of Maguire’s story was this: what if the ugly stepsister wasn’t ugly at all? What if she’d been told her whole life by one person that no man would ever want her?
Iris’ mom, Margarethe, is the origin of Iris’ lack of self-worth, calling her daughter plain and insisting no man will ever find Iris or her simple sister Ruth desirable.
Mom of the year, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s bad enough that it’s Iris’ parent spreading these harmful ideas. There are enough forces warping peoples’ perceptions of themselves; significant others don’t need to get in on the act.
Iris’ self-perception leads her to resent her stepsister, Clara, whose only fault is being too beautiful. (No, really. Also, she’s kind of mean.)
The worst part, though, is that Iris’ belief that no one could want her hurts her budding relationship with aspiring painter, Caspar.
Caspar is awesome. I just found out Matthew Goode played him in the TV movie, which is great and all, but nowhere near close to Caspar’s true greatness.
Iris spends the whole book hoping that Caspar will love her, because he’s GREAT, and for much of the book it seems like just that will happen: Caspar paints Iris and calls her beautiful when no one else does.
So of course Margarethe has to ruin it, telling Iris all manner of lies about Caspar, namely that he’s gay and has no interest in her anyway, despite all evidence to the contrary.
That’s the part I hate most: after all Caspar does, Iris finds it impossible to believe he could love her. What’s worse, she can’t accept any true things about herself.
Loving people who believe lies is exhausting and frustrating. It hurts to hear them tell you outrageous lies and not know where they first heard them. I can only do so much to let them know they’re loved. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to fix it.
Caspar loves you, Iris, and it kills him that you mistrust it.
Need cheering up? What better way to suck out all the angst and heartbreak of the source material than to make a hokey TV movie?
“You are not my family, and I am not a piece of merchandise to be used to benefit you!”
Also, IS THAT GOVERNOR SWANN? Land. Sakes.
Ah yes. Because this is a story about how two strangers can become the best of friends.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favorite book of the series. It has the wonder and light-hearted charm of the early books while transitioning seamlessly into the series’ darker elements. Plus, there’s a ball and romance and people dress all fancy.
Also, Cedric Diggory dies.
It wasn’t until the movie came out that my friends cared about him.
They sobbed. For days. The pages describing his death are streaked with their mascara.
I don’t share their grief.
It’s always sad when someone dies, whether that person was connected to you or not. Harry and Cedric weren’t close, but that doesn’t make the Diggorys’ grief less valid.
As far as characters go, though, Cedric was sort of a nothing. It’s not like he was someone Harry knew and loved and wanted to spend his life with, right?
I hate this death. I’m still angry about Fred Weasley and Hedwig and Dumbledore, but Sirius’ is my least favorite death in the series. When it happens, Harry has a hard time processing:
But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before. . . . Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him. . . . If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back. . . . That he really was . . .
I have hazy memories of exactly when I read each of the Harry Potter books, but I remember Order of the Phoenix clearly:
In sixth grade, I was finishing the last few chapters of OOTP in my room before my mom drove me to school. In chapter 37, following Sirius’ death, Harry meets with Dumbledore to discuss the prophecy and ends up tearing apart Dumbledore’s office:
“There is no shame in what you are feelings, Harry,” said Dumbledore’s voice. “On the contrary…the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.”
Harry felt white-hot anger lick his insides, blazing in the terrible emptiness, filling him with the desire to hurt Dumbledore for his calmness and his empty words.
“My greatest strength, is it?” said Harry, his voice shaking as he stared out at the Quidditch stadium, no longer seeing it. “You haven’t got a clue… You don’t know…”
“What don’t I know?” asked Dumbledore calmly.
It was too much. Harry turned around, shaking with rage.
“I don’t want to talk about how I feel, all right?”
“Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human–”
“THEN–I–DON’T–WANT–TO–BE–HUMAN!” Harry roared, and he seized one of the delicate silver instruments from the spindle-legged table beside him and flung it across the room. It shattered into a hundred tiny pieces against the wall. Several of the pictures let out yells of anger and fright, and the portrait of Armando Dippet said, “Really!”
“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up the lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE–”
He seized the table on which the silver instrument had stood and threw that, too. It broke apart on the floor and the legs rolled in a hundred different directions.
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
“I–DON’T!” Harry screamed, so loudly that he felt his throat might tear, and for a second he wanted to rush at Dumbledore and break him too; shatter that old calm face, shake him, hurt him, make him feel some tiny part of the horror inside Harry.
“Oh yes, you do,” said Dumbledore, still more calmly. “You have lost your mother, your father, and the closest thing to a parent you have ever known. Of course you care.”
“YOU DON’T KNOW HOW I FEEL!” Harry roared. “YOU–STAND THERE–YOU–”
But words were no longer enough, smashing things was no more help. He wanted to run, he wanted to keep running and never look back, he wanted to be somewhere he could no see the clear blue eyes staring at him, that hatefully calm old face.
I started sobbing on the floor of my bedroom. My mom knew I was upset when I got in the car, but she made me go to school anyway. (Author filibuster: book hangovers are a real phenomenon that are deserving of sympathy.)
Well-meaning people trying to cheer me up have said the same things to me that Dumbledore said to Harry. Caring about someone doesn’t feel like a benefit when that someone is dead, or hurting, or doesn’t care about you. I’ve said, “I don’t care,” many times only for people to respond, “But see, you do care.”
That doesn’t help because I don’t mean, “I don’t care,” and Harry doesn’t either. When I say I don’t care, I’m trying to say, “I can’t do this anymore. I feel too much and I want it to stop and if that means not being here anymore, then fine. Please, God, I want this to end.”
This is the first book I ever read that nailed how it feels to feel too much. Even talking about it breaks my heart. Harry should have been with his godfather and they were separated and it’s not fair and I hate it.
If you ever need a book that understands grief, this is it.
Need cheering up?
What if I told you there’s a Harry Potter musical starring Darren Criss that’s an affectionate send-up of the series’ more ridiculous elements?
There are three movies where, when certain scenes come on, I have to leave the room: “Revenge of the Sith,” “Up,” and “Tangled.”
There are several “Tangled” scenes I could mention, but even thinking about this one is enough of a trigger. My friend Staci makes fun of me all the time for it.
So we know going into the movie that Rapunzel is the lost princess. The tension comes from wondering when she’ll find out.
All while she’s having adventures with Flynn Rider, her parents–the king and queen–are gearing up for their daughter’s birthday celebration.
I imagine it would be hard to maintain hope of your daughter’s recovery after 18 years. That’s a long time to keep believing.
As the king and queen get ready to release their lantern, the king breaks down.
Here’s what I love about this scene:
The dad is the one who cries. It’s fairly unexpected for a male character to show vulnerable emotion.
The way the queen comforts him says a lot about their marriage. I love the way they support each other…and love that Rapunzel has two parents! Nice, Disney! Way to portray a short snippet of a healthy marriage!
All his and his wife’s grief is expressed in 30 seconds with no dialogue.
It hurts my heart. So chill, Staci, I’m going to be in kitchen bawling my eyes out getting snacks.
Need cheering up?
Everybody loves this song! I want to hate it because people keep claiming it for their weddings/relationships/romantic moments/general awfulness…but I can’t. Precious.
I’ve written before about A Chorus Line, its tear-producing powers, and the excellent documentary Every Little Step which chronicles the audition process for the show. I loved today’s song before watching the documentary, but the explanation behind the song gave it new meaning for me.
Toward the end of the musical, one of the characters sustains a career-ending injury. Everything he’s worked for becomes nothing in one second–the thing he loves doing most, he’ll never be able to do again.
In Every Little Step, Charlotte d’Amboise’s father has severe arthritis as a result of his dancing career and was told by doctors that he had to stop dancing lest he destroy his body. He, too, had to give up his favorite thing on earth.
Some of this song’s greatest lyrics:
We did what we had to do
The gift was ours to borrow
It’s as if we always knew
Kiss today goodbye and point me toward tomorrow
Every line in this song kills me–it’s about leaving great things behind, but looking forward to even better. All the dancers–both in the show and outside of it–think the pain and the loss were worth it because for a brief time they got to do what they loved. I thought about this song a lot during my senior year because it felt like I was giving up so much. I like this song because while it acknowledges the pain of loss, it has hope for the future.
This is only part of the song, but I got to see this cast live and wouldn’t dream of posting another version:
You go, Morales.
Need cheering up?
Settle in, girls, it’s story time!:
This song was playing once when I gave my friend a ride home. Before getting out of the car, she told me, “I really like your Christmas CD,” forever giving me reason to play this at Christmas instead of Manheim Steamroller.
This book was not what I was expecting. I’m guilty of skimming a book jacket and coming home with a completely different book than the one I bought (“Regency England!? I thought this was a sci-fi novel!”)
So I thought this was a love story about two teens who could only communicate honestly via the interwebs.
Gifted teenager Amy has Cerebral Palsy, which has left her unable to speak and makes it difficult for her to walk. She communicates via a computer, but requires assistance for everyday tasks such as dressing and carrying school supplies. These differences have isolated her from her peers, leaving her friendless. To counteract this, she and her controlling mother work out a plan to have peer aides so Amy can be exposed other kids her age.
The rest of the story unfolds as a love story between Amy and Matt, one of Amy’s peer aides who struggles with OCD.
This book went in a direction that I didn’t expect but liked. Amy and Matt’s struggles were dealt with honestly, and McGovern avoided making Amy an angelic, inspirational disabled person. She treated her characters like real people and didn’t sugarcoat the fact that real people have ugly thoughts sometimes.
The part I loved most was that there were so many quotable quotes about life, love, and growing up that I’m having trouble picking just a couple.
One that I loved is featured on the back of the book:
I’ve decided that it’s possible to love someone for entirely selfless reasons, for all of their flaws and weaknesses, and still not succeed in having them love you back. It’s sad, perhaps, but not tragic, unless you dwell forever in the pursuit of their elusive affections.
The “not-dwelling” part speaks to me. I’ve been stuck longing for relationships–romantic and platonic–that are never going to happen, and I’ve seen other friends refuse to move on from the same thing. I thought the book did a good job of walking a dangerous line–Amy and Matt chose to move on and yet still had hope that they could be together. In this book’s case, I didn’t feel like the characters were holding out for something unrealistic or unhealthy. The ending didn’t offer up a cruel or codependent relationship and try to cover up the bad parts with shiny romance.
Moving on was explored in a scene where Matt discussed giving up on Amy with his therapist:
When he got to her office…[h]e talked about what happened with Hannah. That night behind the screen when she leaned over and kissed him. For a long time he hadn’t let himself remember it, and now he couldn’t seem to forget it. It got bigger in his mind, and worse. What if the bad things that were happening now were proof that the voice was right all along? See? I told you. If you aren’t careful, Amy might get sick and [spoilers omitted]. If you aren’t careful, anything can happen. Logically, of course, it didn’t make sense. His voice didn’t care about girls trying to kiss him.
But he couldn’t get his brain to understand the difference. Being scared of kissing felt as big and panicky as being scared of germs and death. “Well,” Beth said when he tried to explain this. “They both mean something dies. The person you once were–the boy too afraid to kiss a girl–dies when you do it.”
He almost reminded her that he had kissed girls, back when he was fine, but that wasn’t the point. Beth was right. Something did die every time you changed. Amy wasn’t the same person she used to be. Neither was he. Maybe it had already happened.
I love, love, love this passage. There’s freedom in moving on, yet in it you lose part of yourself. Letting go of something bad doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Need cheering up? Normally, when I write the “Need cheering up?” section, I like to find things that are at least marginally related to the topic of the day. A lot of times I have trouble finding such a thing and choose the first happy/funny/strange thing I come across.
This is one of those times, but this is too good not to share.
Sometimes characters have to make impossible decisions. This often manifests as them having to choose between their best friend or their love interest, or deciding which of their children gets to live, or rescuing either their family or millions of strangers.
This happens to protagonist Todd Hewitt in The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series.
This book is brain-bustingly good. I normally don’t do entire books for Make-You-Cry Monday–just snippets–but I don’t want to say anything to spoil this book. All I can say is it’s about a boy named Todd Hewitt who lives in a small village with his dads. A couple things you need to know about this village:
An alien virus has enabled men on the planet hear each other’s thoughts–AKA “Noise.”
There are no women, thanks to the alien virus.
Animals can talk, though they’re not very interesting conversationalists, e.g., Todd’s dog Manchee mainly says, “Todd,” and, “Poo.”
Todd does farm work and wanders about with Manchee, waiting until he can become a man like the rest of the boys in his village.
Like the characters I mentioned above, at one point in the book, Todd has to make an impossible decision.
In other works, characters either are given or invent a third option. I like it a bit better when a third option doesn’t present itself. As hard as it is, I want to see what these characters will do when faced with such a difficult choice.
At least, I used to feel that way. I regret it now.
The choice Todd makes is the right one. If he’d chosen differently, the series would have ended after one book. I try to tell myself this whenever I think of a certain scene.
But even knowing all of that, I closed the book on page 300, put it down, and cried myself to sleep.
I KNEW IT WAS COMING from PAGE 1, and I was still not emotionally prepared.
I read this giant book in about a day. Please go find a copy and cry your heart out.
Need cheering up? I can’t hear the song “Don’t Stop Me Now” without smiling thanks to this scene from Shaun of the Dead.
I think this scene is hilarious. My parents do not agree.
Many of my friends don’t like “Into the Woods” because after Act 1, it stops being fun. The musical transitions from a lighthearted send-up of fairy tale tropes into a dark examination of heavy themes, such as death, betrayal, and infidelity.
Oh, and throw in an absentee father because Stephen Sondheim had issues with his parents.
The musical used to be on Netflix, and I would watch it at least once a month, though I had to be in a special mood for it. I’d be down for Act 1 at any time, but Act 2 spoke to me when I wasn’t feeling so great. Sometimes you need to watch something sad to get all your feelings out. My friends watch “One Tree Hill” or “Grey’s Anatomy”; I watch musicals.
At this part in the musical, the Baker is at his lowest point. His wife is dead, there’s a murderous giant on the loose, he’s abandoned his son, and his crazy ghost father won’t leave him alone. He tries and fails to get a straight answer out of his dad, who only speaks in riddles. Angry and exhausted, the Baker gives up.
I know how the Baker feels. There comes a time when you feel so much you’d rather feel nothing; at that point, all you want is to be left alone, instead of dealing with more bad news, emotions, or change.
This summer has been the Summer of Doubt. Right now, I’m sick of uncertainty and my faith being stretched. I’m tired of people asking me questions about my future. I want a straight answer, too. I haven’t done much this summer and still I’m exhausted. Yet, as the Baker’s father explains, running away won’t help. “Just more questions…different kind.”
I understand why the film version cut this song…but I wish they hadn’t.
Need cheering up? Best song in the musical. The lyrics allow me to lament my love life and laugh at the same time. The princes know what’s up.