Tag Archives: parent-child relations

Next Gen (2018 Movie)

Netflix with Baozou Manhua, Alibaba Pictures, & Tangent Animation

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Ever since her father left when she was just a kid, Mai’s life has been a rage-filled, lonely mess. Her mom doesn’t really pay attention to her, the kids at school bully her, she doesn’t have any true friends. It’s only a matter of time until all that anger finds a target; for Mai it becomes the robots that dominate her mother’s attention and give the other kids at school the power to hurt her. And when she stumbles upon a robot that’s different–on that has true artificial intelligence and that wants to be her friend–she suddenly has the power to do something about all the rage and hurt that’s built up inside herself. But Mai isn’t the only one with an agenda, and perhaps nearly losing everything is enough to make her realize that lashing out isn’t the answer.

I have kind of mixed feelings about Next Gen. I mean, it’s a good movie. The CG animation is solid and visually catchy; technically, it’s well done. But I find myself incapable of not comparing it with Big Hero 6, and it keeps coming up short. There’s the whole robot friend thing for starters, and 7723 (the robot here) is enough like Baymax that I can’t help but make comparisons, and yet it is not nearly so cute or so prone to push the protagonist towards good choices. There’s actually a lot of violence here, and a lot of it is caused by Mai and 7723 . . . and it’s not all against obvious “bad guys” either. Mai also reminds me somewhat of Hiro–more than even just the angsty teenager vibe, there are just aspects of their personalities that are pretty similar. Only, Hiro is an example of someone like that who has good friends and family supporting him and helping him make good choices, while Mai is a clear picture of someone completely out of control with no one bothering to notice enough to help her or stop her. On a completely tangential note, I feel like the big overarching storyline (the bad guy trying to destroy humanity part) was 1) too over the top to be credible and 2) not sufficiently related to the basic story (Mai’s life and struggles), although they certainly do interact over the course of the story. So yeah, on the whole, while Next Gen is a solid enough movie, it just doesn’t strike me right, partly because I just don’t enjoy stories that are so fueled by rage and hurt. On the other hand, Bookriot presents a differing perspective on this movie in their excellent post (which I recommend reading), pointing out that this movie provides much-needed discussion for kids on appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle anger, bullying, and the like. Which, yes, I can see their point. Thus the mixed feelings. I probably won’t watch Next Gen again myself, but I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it,” either.

Based on 7723 by Wang Nima/Written & Directed by Kevin R. Adams & Joe Ksander/Music by Samuel Jones & Alexis Marsh/Starring John Krasinski, Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Peña, David Cross, & Constance Wu

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Abigail and the Snowman (Graphic Novel)

Author: Roger Langridge

Colorist: Fred Stresing

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Nine-year-old Abigail is having a rough time adapting, what with moving to a new home, adjusting to a new school (in the middle of the school year!), and having her dad being so busy with trying to find a job. He can’t even keep their tradition of going to the zoo for her birthday this year! But things begin to look up when Abigail runs into Claude one day at the playground and promptly decides he’s going to be her new best friend. He’s in need of a friend himself, what with being a yeti, escaped from a government research lab and on the run. Good thing adults can’t see him (although kids can, which quickly makes Abigail popular with the other kids at school); only, the people from the government have special equipment that can find him, and they’re closing in fast.

Abigail and the Snowman is quite the unusual graphic novel. For one thing, although it is most definitely a graphic novel in the way it’s set up, I’m also inclined to compare it to a comic strip (because of the art style) and to a picture book (because of the intended demographic and the sort of story it tells). It’s really cute–definitely a feel-good, happy ending kind of story. I feel like it expresses the challenges of a single-parent family going through a difficult move very well–both from the kid’s perspective and from the parent’s–while still giving us a loving, functional family relationship. It also shows a good development of real friendship and loyalty, especially as both parties are brought to the point of making choices that are sacrificial for themselves for the safety and wellbeing of their friend. I would generally say that the intended audience is elementary grade (depending on their tolerance for a certain amount of violence/scariness; parental discretion advised as there are bad guys with guns involved in the story), although middle-graders would probably also enjoy the story. It’s heartwarming enough to be fun in a different way for grownups as well.

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The Janitor’s Boy

Author: Andrew Clements

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Normally, Jack Rankin is something of a model kid–polite, hard-working, good grades. Life isn’t exactly normal right now, though. The entire middle school has been dumped in the ancient high-school building for the year until their new building is ready to use . . . the high-school building where Jack’s dad works as the janitor. Not a big deal, except let’s be honest, when the other kids find out, it’s totally a big deal. Let the teasing begin. And wondering why his dad so desperately wants to ruin his life, Jack begins to get angry. That’s when he comes up with the perfect revenge.

Although I’ve been vaguely aware of Andrew Clements’ writings for some time, this is the first time I’ve actually read one of his books, and I must say, I’m impressed. This middle-grade/coming-of-age story is warm, humorous, accessible, and engaging. Moreover, it delves deep into the complexities of the parent-child relationship at a challenging age and stage of life, opening some interesting discussions on the topic from both the child’s and the parent’s point of view. I love, love, love that the story actually carries Jack through the transformation of perspective from seeing his dad as someone who provides for him and tells him what to do to seeing his dad as an actual whole person with his own problems and stories and personality. It’s something I’ve experienced personally, but I’ve never seen a book actually develop this phenomenon before. I think this is what truly raises the bar in this book, transforming it from an amusing middle-grade story to a beautiful, moving coming-of-age story. I also really enjoyed how much individual personality each of the characters had and the way in which that personality affected the flow of the plot. In short, The Janitor’s Boy was an impressive surprise for me, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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Cosmic

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 5 of 5

Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.

So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Author: Kimberly Willis Holt

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Nothing much ever happens in the sleepy Texas town of Antler. Or so Toby Wilson thinks until the summer of 1971 blows into town like an ill wind, bringing challenges and change aplenty.  His best friend Cal’s brother is in Vietnam fighting, and Cal can’t seem to bring himself to even write him back. Toby’s mom went to Nashville for a country music competition, and now Toby isn’t sure she’s ever coming home. And then Zachary Beaver rolls into town in a trailer with red letters proclaiming him the fattest boy in the world. That sure brings some excitement to the town as folks line up to pay their two dollars and gawk (Toby and Cal included). But then Zachary’s guardian leaves town . . . without Zachary, and as they begin to spend more time with him, Toby gradually discovers there’s more to Zachary than a stuck-up, overly hygienic, overweight kid.

Why does this book not get more love?! I’d never even heard of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town until I happened to stumble across it in the middle of a book sale, where I picked it up on whim. It’s fabulous. The tone is simple and captures small-town thirteen-year-old boy remarkably well. There are a lot of coming-of-age elements as Toby and his friends deal with loss, loneliness, love, family, and learning to understand those who are different from themselves. And all of this is expressed in a simple yet moving way that I really enjoyed reading. I valued the flaws that were present even in the most likable of the characters, the humanity of them, and the way these flaws influenced their choices. It was also interesting to read something Vietnam War era that wasn’t focused on big cities, university campuses, and peace protests; you get a much better picture here of how the war affected everyday life for the majority of the country, I think, and just a better picture of what life was like at that time. I would certainly recommend When Zachary Beaver Came to Town both for middle-grade readers (the intended audience) and for older readers as well. It’s excellent.

 

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How Tía Lola Came to (Visit) Stay

Author: Julia Álvarezhow-tia-lola-came-to-visit-stay

My rating: 2.5 of 5

After his parents’ divorce, Miguel, his mom, and his bratty little sister Juanita move to Vermont to start a new life. Of course, Miguel misses his friends in New York, his baseball team, and his artist father who is always teaching him the names of colors. But soon, it seems, he’ll have more to worry about in Vermont. Mami’s Tía Lola is coming all the way from the Dominican Republic to stay with them for a while and help out. Tía Lola is embarrassing–she’s colorful and loud and talks to everyone, but she only speaks Spanish! But maybe she’s not all bad. . . .

Well, I must admit, How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay was a surprise for me. I really expected to love it. I probably ought to have loved it. It’s a solid middle-grade story with all the right stuff–helping kids deal with divorce, sports, family, cultural diversity, the works. Plus it gives a good look into Dominican culture, and it helps introduce kids to lots of Spanish words. Plus it teaches about giving people a chance and looking for unexpected ways to handle problems. But the truth is that this book just fell kind of flat for me. A large part of it is that the entire story is written in present tense, which has always been challenging for me to adjust to in a book. I love the premise of playing with tenses and persons in writing, but when it comes down to it, present tense is just awkward in large quantities. Also, for all the colorful details Álvarez put into the characters, they never felt like solid, real people; I could never really see them or connect to them. So, although I think I would like to give Álvarez’s writing another try in a different book, I didn’t love How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay like I expected and wanted to.

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Tender Morsels

Author: Margo Lanagantender morsels

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Contains rape & incest

Ever since her mother’s death, Liga has lived in abuse and isolation, first from her father and later from the young men in her village. In a moment of desperation, Liga decides to end her own life and that of her baby daughter–only to have a most mysterious being interfere and offer her another way out: an exchange of her life in the real world for a safe life in her own personal “heaven.” And so, for many years, Liga and her two daughters live safely in peace . . . but the real world won’t be kept out forever, nor will strong-willed girls be kept in.

If you’ve read anything by Margo Lanagan, you won’t be surprised when I say that Tender Morsels was dark and unsettling. I think if you leave a book of hers undisturbed, you’ve read it wrong. Tender Morsels takes several story elements from the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and Rose Red,” and transforms them into a dark but hopeful tale. It wrestles with the harms women can and do receive from men–and with bringing that fact into balance with the wonderful, healthy relationships that are also possible. It deals with the concept of escapism and the fact that life is meant to be lived fully–the hurts, yes, but also the glorious joys and loves that it can bring. I think Lanagan’s handling of these concepts was well done; meaningful, conflicted, and thought-provoking to be sure. I also appreciated that she dealt with some very difficult topics without cheapening them by making them erotic or overly detailed, while still maintaining the painful emotional impact of them. Honestly, I probably should rate this book a 5 of 5, but it just didn’t work that well for me in some regards. I can’t even say why exactly . . . the plot was too loose and all over the place, perhaps? I’m not sure who the actual protagonist even is? I can’t even say how I really feel about the ending? Whatever the case, Tender Morsels was an excellently written story, just not one of my personal favorites.

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