Monthly Try A Chapter #2

Welcome to the second monthly Try A Chapter! These posts will replace monthly TBRs this year.

Each post will be mostly focused on recent releases I’m on the fence about (the ones I’m sure I want to read at some point, like Dark and Deepest Red, won’t be here), but there will be some backlist books as well. My goal is, of course, to keep my TBR small, which will allow me to focus only on things I’m really interested in – I won’t have that much time for reading this year and I want to make the most of it.

The Books


Spellhacker by M.K. England [January new release; sci-fi]: I haven’t tried anything by this author before, but they write queer YA SFF that seem to be more or less well-liked? I have my biases against YA sci-fi but I’m always ready to be proven wrong.
The first chapter: Instant quit. I hated the magic system at first sight – there’s Maz (magic, I presume) of which some strains are, I kid you not, “Obscuraz, Songaz, Sunnaz, Scentaz and Formaz”, because certain authors have neither imagination nor sense of grace when it comes to naming things – and the way the characters interacted in the first chapters gave me Illuminae flashbacks. Not for me.
[removed from TBR]


The Outside by Ada Hoffmann [backlist; sci-fi]: this should be… cosmic horror in space with a queer autistic protagonist. And it should be weird. I’m not sure it will work for me because cult-related plotlines are very hit-or-miss, but I’m curious, even though most reviews I’ve seen weren’t positive.
The first chapter: Oh, this opens with a quote from the Inferno, and it’s a really peculiar choice for an Inferno quote. Maybe out of context it speaks of fanatism? But it’s about love in context, so I don’t know. We’ll see. And I really liked what I saw of the first chapter – physicists in space! Creeping dread! This is going to be fun.
[will definitely continue]


Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker [January new release; fantasy novella]: so, I’m in love with this cover, I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews, and apparently there’s something about bronze statues in here? Because of a running joke in my family, this might be relevant to my interests. However, I’ve never read anything by this author before.
The first chapter: the writing is great, the voice stands out from the beginning, and I guess this is a very effective way to open a book and give you a feel of both the world and of the main character. I can’t fault that. However, there’s quite nothing that will annoy me in a few pages as starting a book with graphic details of the death of a nameless woman – a sex worker, since that’s fantasy’s favorite victim – especially if the author is a man and the male main character makes it about himself. Please don’t take this as a meaning that this book is bad, because I have no way of knowing that – I just realize that I deeply do not care about knowing what happens next, and that’s fine.
[removed from TBR]


We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding [January new release; contemporary]: I liked The Summer of Jordi Perez well enough, but it was neither a life-changing nor perfectly written story, so I’m not sure about this. It’s a story about a friendship breakup in which one of the main characters is queer, and we do need more stories about friendship.
The first chapter: This was… boring. I don’t know if it’s the book or me – I find myself less and less interested in YA contemporary as time goes on – but I don’t think I’m going to get to this one.
[removed from TBR]


Blood Countess by Lana Popović [January release; historical fantasy]: this is an Elizabeth Bathory retelling focusing on a toxic f/f relationship between the countess and the girl who will become her servant. It sounds horrible and I’m so here for it.
The first chapter: starting a book about Elizabeth Bathory with a kitten had me worried about the worst immediately, but I’m glad that wasn’t the case (…so far). Still, here’s the thing: I have already read another novel by this author, Wicked Like a Wildfire, which also had everything I could ever want from a book – and I liked it but didn’t love it, because me and her writing don’t get along much, and the same might be happening here. I find the dialogue a bit clunky here too, so I’m not sure.
[will probably wait for reviews]

This was more “to remove” than I ever found in a Try A Chapter Tag! I guess it’s successful? Having a big TBR stresses me out, and while this was not a great day for first chapters, now at least there are four less books.

Do you like having a small TBR as well?


Changing Your Mind About Books You Reviewed

Before I started blogging, I already knew it was difficult to find two people who felt the exact same way about a book. What I didn’t expect was how often I would disagree with myself.

The thing about having a blog that is several years old, especially if you started blogging when you weren’t even an adult, is that you grow and change as a person, and you’re not necessarily going to see the books you read as you did in the past. It’s an obvious thing, and yet one I don’t really know how to deal with, because – blame the anxiety or the perfectionism, I don’t know – I’d like my blog to reflect the things I think now.

The way I tend to change opinions has also changed through time:

When I Started Reviewing…

…I liked most things I read, or at least, I gave higher ratings than I do now on average. And I think it’s pretty much an universal experience to look back on the books you read when you started blogging and think “yeah, that most definitely wasn’t that great”, (especially if you started at 15). I usually changed my mind in these ways:

  • Peer Pressured: I read a hyped book and ended up not feeling much, or couldn’t articulate my feelings. So I rate it four stars, because everyone seems to like it and I don’t have any strong opinion I recognize. Then I think about it months later and realize they’d have to pay me to make me reread it. (Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is an example of this for me; it went from 4 to 1 stars in the span of a few months)
  • Unfortunate realization: I read a book and like it. Then I learn that several plot points had strong unfortunate implications and that doesn’t make me think of the book in a positive light anymore, even though I did like it while reading (example: the twist in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon)
  • Plain old suck fairy: [“You read a book you used to love, and—something’s happened to it! The prose is terrible, the characters are thin, the plot is ridiculous.” – Jo Walton]

These mostly happened because back then I didn’t really have standards. Which is fine, because you have to build them for yourself! Change is a good thing and so is growth.

And to deal with them is easy. My Italian blog isn’t public anymore, so I don’t have to think about old reviews; if I want my goodreads shelves to reflect my current taste accurately, I just go on goodreads and either change or remove the rating.

But that’s usually not the kind of self-disagreement that happens to me anymore.


Now what happens more often is that I change my mind about a book I disliked. Sometimes I dislike something because I read it at the wrong time, or because in the context I had the book was bad and then the context changed – as I’ve talked about a little in my review of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.
But this was an easy case: I wanted to reread it anyway, and it was a novella.

What if I change my mind about a book I don’t want to reread?
Let’s make two examples:

#1: The Cruel Prince

26032825I read The Cruel Prince when it came out, and I gave it 3.5 stars. I still think that’s what it deserves, so the rating stays, and I don’t feel the need to reread it – I’m not that interested in the sequels if not in the “wanting to understand the discussions around them” way, but it’s not a strong enough motivation for me.

What has changed? I disagree with my own review (or: a certain part of it) and don’t think that at the time I could really explain what didn’t work for me.
Ok, I’ll explain, because I feel the need to do that somewhere at least.

The part of The Cruel Prince I disliked the most was the relationship between Jude and Cardan. When I tried to explain what went wrong for me in early 2018, I tried to put together an explanation that pretty much relied on this assumption:

I don’t like it, therefore there must be something objectively wrong with it

Which, especially when it comes to relationships, is pretty much the foundation of most shipping discourse and book twitter’s favorite hobby. I also think that, in most cases, it’s bullshit. And I get why I did it! I was still listening to book twitter/Tumblr (RIP) at that point, and thought that if I came across a toxic relationship I didn’t like in a book, especially one you’re not meant to strongly dislike, it must mean that the book is romanticizing it. (I didn’t use that word because on some level I did feel it was bullshit – I said it was a “fake redemption arc” like the one in the Shatter Me series, except it’s not really that.)

Which is all very hypocritical of a villain romance fan.

The now-obvious thing is that The Cruel Prince never meant to be a portrayal of a healthy relationship or a “how to” novel or a story about how the reader’s bully must certainly secretly love them, and to read it that way is to misread it. So much of fandom discourse is based on misreading, sometimes maliciously – “authorial intent doesn’t matter”, they say, but I say the reviewer’s intent is really, really important – but you don’t realize that when you’re sorrounded by it and new to it at the same time.
I also have never believed in the “reading about unchallenged (or according to some even challenged) toxic relationships will make you seek out toxic relationship or will make you an abuser” pseudoscience.

What didn’t work was that Jude and Cardan’s relationship dynamic is that of a power fantasy that doesn’t appeal to me on any level. To me, there’s nothing as unattractive as a bully, and Cardan is the fae version of a repressed high school bully. Maybe I feel this way because I was bullied, maybe I would have felt this in any case; it doesn’t really matter. I don’t believe that people who like Cardan must not understand what it’s like to be bullied, and this isn’t a line of thinking that I feel is productive anyway [this often leads to the whole “we must know your past trauma to understand if your take is valid™” thing, which I find troubling.]

The step between “this is abhorrent and completely opposed to my experience” and “people have different experiences with the same things and what is flatly disgusting to you might be interesting to dissect for someone else for reasons you might never truly get” is important. But recognizing any of this would have meant recognizing the diversity of human experience and that there aren’t hard rules on “hurtful”/”not hurtful” literature; any of this would have meant letting go of the rush of anger people will tell you is so so righteous when you dislike something problematic. I definitely wasn’t there yet.

I still deeply don’t want to read about bully romances, and that’s fine too.

My review is still up on goodreads, and I don’t remember the book enough to re-review it. And I can’t replace it with all this because it’s not a review, this is dragging January-2018!Acqua (she was not in therapy yet and it shows) and book twitter, and I don’t think it belongs on goodreads.

I still haven’t decided what to do about it, apart from writing this post.

#2: Empire of Sand

39714124Empire of Sand is a favorite of many of my mutuals on various sites, one I still think about trying again sometimes, but then never do.

I first tried reading it in November 2018, and I remember that without looking it up – how could I not? The very end of November 2018, the month in which I went off from medication.

If you’ve ever had to deal with psychiatric meds, you’ve also probably heard of or dealt with the side effects, and that some people need to stop that kind of treatment because of them; also, one might experience side effects during withdrawal.

An ARC of this book was lucky enough to not only end up in my hands only a few days after I read Girls of Paper and Fire (both are heavy fantasy reads involving constant threat of sexual assault for the main character) but to also do so during what was, in hindsight, a medication-induced depressive episode.

While it was happening, I didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t think much of it. I didn’t have the energy to do much at all and felt horrible and everything I tried reading felt horrible as well. I don’t think I can explain just how much I dreaded picking up this book again – I’ll just say that I didn’t want to DNF this (I could at least tell that the worldbuilding was good) but had realized that doing chemistry homework in the state I was in (which made me feel miserable, of course, as I kept making obvious mistakes) was less exhausting than this and would have rather done that instead.

But at the time I didn’t have as much insight on what was happening (you can see, from my November 2018 wrap-up, that I said “I kept finding mediocre stuff”) and DNFed Empire of Sand thinking that it was mostly on the novel and just a little on me. I did realize there was a connection between how much GoPaF exhausted me and how I felt about this, but not much more. I rated it two stars on goodreads and that was it, for a while.
The thing is, until this sort of episode is over, you can’t look back and say, no, that was definitely not normal.

It was not on the book. After a few months, I removed the rating, but it took me a while to understand what had happened, and today I still don’t know how I feel about this. I’m in this weird situation in which I read more than half a book and remember it vividly, but don’t really have an opinion on it, though the idea of picking it up again to find out fills me with dread. It certainly has made me think about just how unreliable my negative reviews can be in certain circumstances, and I might not realize that until later.

And That’s Only a A Part

There are other cases, but I won’t stay here to talk about all of them. From Anger is a Gift, a novel I didn’t like but that I read while sick enough to end up in a hospital a few days later (I didn’t think it was good, but was I unfair because I was sick? I ended up deleting my review) to The Poppy War, which I didn’t like, but I liked my attempt at explaining why even less (I’m still not able to explain it, I’ve found things that contributed but I always feel like I’m missing the mark), there really are many.

Generally, I’ve realized that in the last year, I’ve trusted negative reviews – especially one star reviews – less than I did once, and this includes my own (I’ve tried writing a post about that multiple times but it never quite comes together.) There’s probably a lot on this blog I don’t agree with anymore. At the same time, I try to keep in mind that the urge to delete, delete, delete everything is an anxiety symptom, so I shouldn’t listen to it too much.

The problem with the internet and a great thing about the internet is that everything stays while we don’t, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Maybe, every time I realize I significantly changed my mind about a book I didn’t reread I’ll write a post like this one about why, or maybe I’ll keep having crises about the inherent instability of life.

What do you do when you change your mind about a book? Change the review? Nothing? Write too-long discussion posts?


T10T: Some Pretty Covers I Discovered In the Last Few Months

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Cover Freebie.

I decided to talk about some beautiful covers I discovered in the last few months that I haven’t talked much about yet. Not all of these are recently revealed, some of them are just from lesser-known books or from genres I don’t usually follow.

Soft Science


I’m tempted to read this poetry collection (here’s a genre I really never reach for!) just because I’m that in love with the cover. It’s just… the geometry? The soft but unusual color scheme? I really want to know what all of this means.

A Wicked Magic


I really like purple. Also, this is about witches, and it really is true that YA witchy stories often end up wasting their potential for a vaguely-creepy, really pretty cover like this one. (Both the original cover of Undead Girl Gang and the one of These Witches Don’t Burn really disappointed me, and the only thing I loved about The Lost Coast was the rainbow color scheme.)

The Scapegracers


Here’s another YA witch book that gets the aesthetic (and the purple) right! I like when books get it. Also, you know what’s better than a YA book about a witch? One about a lesbian witch. Yes, this is on my TBR, I hope it’s good.



I have since bought this mysterious book (I’ve talked about the weird circumstances around its release here, but the TL;DR is that it was published on the 31st of December by Tor and got no attention at all from pretty much every place. Weird.) and the main reason I was drawn to it in the first place was the cover, it has… such a harmony? I love this illustration style.

What If a Fish


It’s really true that no one gets pretty illustrated covers like middle grade books. I’m not sure I’ll read it because I don’t often reach for middle grade, but this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. 12 year-old-me would have asked someone to buy it for her without even thinking about it.

The Book of Koli


I will never stop loving plant horror, and this is probably one of the creepiest depictions of fiddleheads (young fern fronds) we will ever see. I love it a lot. It looks like they’re ready to reach for everything! I don’t know if I’ll read it but the presence of plant horror is tempting.

The Afterward Cover Change

I read this book in May of last year and had mixed feelings about it (review), but this paperback cover is a great improvement compared to the original one for me! It portrays the two main characters perfectly, and explains “knight/thief f/f romance” far more clearly. It’s one of the best cover changes I’ve seen in a while.

In the Dream House


I could pretend I became interested in this because I still haven’t seen a review that wasn’t raving about it, but in reality it was about the cover first for me. (I didn’t think there would be a time I would think a memoir’s cover is pretty, much less be interested in one! How things change.)

Trouble the Saints


A recently revealed cover that follows a really interesting scheme – cards! I wonder what that means – from Alaya Dawn Johnson, the author of one of the most vibrant and colorful short stories I have ever read (A Hundred Thousand Threads, in Three Sides of a Heart). I’m really looking forward to this even though I don’t really know what it is.

The Deathless Girls


Not only this is a gay vampire novel with a gorgeous cover, I’ve also been told the details are symbols and direct references to things that appear in the story, and now I want to know what they mean. It has such a dark fairytale look.

Have you seen any interesting new covers lately?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

44804083In Come Tumbling Down, the fifth novella in the series, we return to the Moors.

While most of the stories so far could more or less stand alone, this one doesn’t, and I really recommend reading/rereading Down Among the Sticks and Bones first, or none of this would make any sense. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook of it just a few days ago – I would have missed so many little details that made this story worth reading.
And, compared to Down Among the Sticks and Bones, this is both an improvement and a step back: it feels messier than all of the novellas so far apart from Beneath the Sugar Sky, because group casts are difficult to handle and this doesn’t always get it right, but it’s at the same time a necessary conclusion to Jack’s story and a far less pedantic sequel than I expected.

If the previous novella was a story about the consequences of bad parenting most of all, and with not much nuance to give, this is about what makes a hero (or a monster), but it’s more than anything about a quest. Which means it’s a little subtler, and I really appreciated that, though it – as always for this series – has the tendency of letting its characters have OOC moments for the purpose of making them say something off and then having another character lecture them about why what they said was wrong. It’s still very didactic, but at least the narration doesn’t spend paragraphs preaching to the reader.
It was also more difficult to follow as an audiobook, as there are five main characters read by only one person, and sometimes I struggled a little to follow who was speaking.

One of the highlights for me was being able to see Sumi outside of confection or the school; nonsense shines brighter and is just plain funnier in a stark world that runs on logic as the Moors. I really liked seeing all the others as well, and I hope this won’t be the last time.
I also really appreciated how this explained more about the rules and inner workings of the Moors – I would read a whole book involving the Drowned Gods, which I would never have expected from the previous novels. Salt-rotten gothic is my favorite aesthetic.

I was also glad of how this book mentioned mental health awareness in a fantasy world, and what it means for Jack to have OCD – it’s something I don’t see enough of.

I might like some installment in this series more than others (In An Absent Dream remains my favorite, I think) but overall I think this format really works for me; short companion novellas is a format that really never gets old.

My rating: ★★★★


T10T: The Ten Most Recent Additions to My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is The Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf.

I’m pretty sure this meant to be things I added to my physical bookshelf, but as I buy very few physical books and have already posted a book haul in December, this would be repetitive, so I’m going to talk about recent additions to my TBR (or the “maybe” shelf of my TBR, as I’m on the fence about many of these).

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power


I didn’t love Wilder Girls, but I might like this more? Maybe? I had two main problems with that book, one being the disconnection for various factors (which could still be an issue) and its failed attempt at being ecological-based horror (which shouldn’t be a problem here). Horror is hit-or-miss in any circumstance anyway, but Rory Power does write really well, so… I’m intrigued. Also, I’ve never understood American’s relationship with corn fields, and I hope this books will make me see it in the most upsetting way possible.

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


So far, I’ve disliked all the adult thrillers I’ve read and liked all the Silvia Moreno-Garcia books I’ve tried. Let’s see what wins!
Jokes aside, I’ve seen a few reviews lately that made me really think I’m going to enjoy this and I do trust this author.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin


I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and didn’t care for The Fifth Season, which according to many probably makes me someone with terrible taste in fantasy, but what’s undeniable regardless of my preferences is Jemisin’s skill. I really want to know how her short fiction is like, as I’ve also heard there are stories involving cooking in here.

The Devourers by Indra Das


I’ve been hearing nothing but amazing things about this novel, and as I haven’t read anything involving werewolf folklore in… years, I think, I’m really curious. I’ve also heard it goes into really dark territory, so there’s that. (A recurrent theme in this list: books dealing with dark themes and me not knowing whether that’s something I can read at all.)

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker


This is Seanan McGuire writing the book that was at the center of the magic system in her own novel Middlegame, using as a pseudonym the name of the fictional author who wrote that book inside of Middlegame. Between this and Or What You Will by Jo Walton, it’s going to be such a year for extremely meta content in SFF. I can’t wait.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna


This is 100% a cover add and I’m never going to pretend otherwise. Just… look at it?
Apart from that, this is an West African-Inspired YA fantasy story, and all I know is that there’s a girl who bleeds gold, and that’s a sign of something that might be powerful and might be horrible, and possibly intrigue. I’m not sure and it’s too early for reviews, but we’ll see – you know how picky I can get with fantasy these times.

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender


I wasn’t interested in this one until I heard of the levels of horrible the main character gets. Now I’m tentatively interested, because this might be too brutal/depressing for me (I’ve discovered I should do my best to avoid fantasy novels closely inspired by real tragedies) but reading about truly morally gray people is something I love, so. I’m not sure I’ll read it but I might include it in a try a chapter post and see how I feel.

Patsy by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn


A story about a queer Jamaican woman who was forced to have a child and then chooses to emigrate to the US leaving her child behind. It’s told in both Patsy’s PoV and the PoV of the child, and yes this is completely outside the genres I usually reach for, but that’s exactly why I’m interested. I want to read more queer literature across genres and this could be a place to start from. Or maybe not, because I never know when heavy topics get unreadable for me. I don’t know my limits for sure but I’m here to try new things.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow


I… just really love this cover and want to know more. It’s on my “keep an eye on it/maybe” shelf so far, then we’ll see. I’m not sure what this is about exactly but I know it’s a paranormal/urban fantasy novel that follows a friendships and deals with misogynoir.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley


Despite loving pretty much everything I’ve read by Kameron Hurley, many short stories included, I’ve always stayed away from the Worldbreaker Saga, the main reason for that being length and bad reviews. Then I remembered that pretty much everything negative I had heard about this series came down to it being “confusing”, and at this point I should pretty much see that as a buzzword when it comes to adult SFF.

Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Reread Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Opinions change. There are times I don’t like a book and yet I know that, if I were to reread it, I wouldn’t feel the same way. It has happened to me with The Star Touched Queen and Jade City; now here we are again.

I knew, before listening to this audiobook, that I probably would have liked it more this time around. That’s also because of how much I loved In An Absent Dream this year, and because I see this series differently as a whole; I think I have a better grasp on what it wants to be.

DownAmongtheSticksThe first time I read this book, I was 17, and I rated it two stars. Now I’m 20, and with this reread, I see it in a completely different way, and yet not. I went back and reread my review on my old Italian blog, and I still agree with almost every single thing I said then. This book is the same as it was; I didn’t read it wrong, whatever that might mean, or miss anything particularly important.
It’s just that context can do so much.

Let’s start with the thing I hated the most about Down Among the Sticks and Bones in 2017: it’s one of the most repetitive and unsubtle things I’ve ever read, and relies almost only on telling. There’s little in the book world I hate as much as a story that doesn’t trust its reader to understand and therefore beats them over the head with its message. Usually.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t realize, back then, just how much these books are meant to be read as a fairytale. The whole series plays with fairytale and portal fantasy tropes, and both genres tend to thrive on the familiar, on repetition.
Because of how it relied on telling more than Every Heart a Doorway did, this novella was an irritating read. If you listen to it on audiobook, as I did the second time around, it’s delightful. Not only you don’t have to worry if you miss something – oh, will the story remind you, as anyone speaking to you who wants to get their point across would – but the telling bothers you a lot less if the story is actually being told to you.
It’s not that it can’t work in written form, it’s just that most of what I saw as a flaw then I now see as just a difference in format and goal.

I still don’t like how much this story lacks in nuance.
This is true for most of Seanan McGuire’s books, especially the less recent ones I’ve read. This story won’t let you draw your own conclusions about the characters and the themes it explores, it has the tendency to tell you what to think. Which is irritating even though – because? – I would have drawn those conclusions anyway and agree with the message.
Lack of nuance also tends to come with the territory. Neither fairytales nor portal fantasy are known for it (is anyone going to pretend Narnia ever bothered with something as heretical as nuance and subtlety? Ha. Yes, lack of subtlety is probably more irritating when you disagree with the message, but then you don’t feel bad about it!)

That still doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s kind of dissonant to read about how adults often don’t allow their children to form their own preferences and opinions because they don’t really see children as people in a book that fervently demands you don’t form your own about the theme either.
One thing I liked the most about In An Absent Dream is that I felt it gave the reader more space to think on their own. This really doesn’t, and it’s the reason I can’t give it a higher rating despite how much more I appreciated this story this time around.

This time, I understood the charm the world of the Moors has, and grew attached to Jack in a way I hadn’t at all the first time. She’s a queer mad scientist in training who has to deal with mental health issues (OCD)! Of course I love her. And the author really made this world come alive with the descriptions. So creepy, so terrible, and yet I get why the twins want to stay. It’s not like our world can’t be that to a lot of people.

Another thing that has changed for me is that I’m no longer angry at the ending. I don’t fault 17-year-old me for feeling that way about an ambiguous ending that might or might not have implied a homophobic trope, and I didn’t know Come Tumbling Down would exist then. Now, of course, things have changed.

My rating: ★★★½

Have you read this? What is your favorite novella in this series?


Acqua & Movies: Booksmart + Let It Snow (2019)

In March of 2019, I wrote an Out of My Comfort Zone post about book-to-movie adaptations. I finally felt like I was in the right place to watch something again.

Prepare for a whole post of low-level culture shock and me being confused!

I wanted to try a movie that was not a book-to-movie adaptation, and I wanted something that was a) sapphic and b) available to buy in my country on google play, the only place where I could easily buy things online without having to ask my parents.

Unsurprisingly, that’s a really small pool, and that’s how I ended up watching Booksmart (2019, directed by Olivia Wilde), in Italy “la rivincita delle sfigate” (wow do I hate this title).

bI wish I were able to start by telling you something as simple as whether I liked Booksmart or not, but as usual, screen-induced anxiety made this a weird experience and I don’t know what to say. Or, I should probably tell you that you shouldn’t take what I say too seriously, as I started to get into this only around the 75% mark, and the 102 minutes of it actually took me a whole afternoon, since I kept pausing things.

We started off on the wrong note because this was only available in Italian, and not in English (with or without subtitles), and the dubbing was… messy. At first I struggled to understand which of the two girls was speaking. Also, the humor in this book relies a lot on certain types of joke that don’t translate well, and that doesn’t help.

And since we’re talking about cultural barriers: I always forget just how alien American culture – and, especially, American high school – is to me until I actually see them. I realize I keep imagining things wrong when I read contemporary books, because even the settings (the cities are so flat and yet going anywhere has to involve a car?), the objects in here (…people actually seriously unironically wear togas? I forgot that. And cars that old are allowed? Like no one will stop you?) – everything is so weird to me. And this is important, because this is a story about challenging high school stereotypes, and it doesn’t work as much when those stereotypes aren’t really your own? But once I got into it, it was a fun time, if one I always felt like I couldn’t fully get.

I also agree with this tweet by author Rory Power:

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about movies and say whether or not this was in any way good on a technical level, but it was really nice to see a lesbian on a screen, and that’s what I wanted, so I’m not unhappy. I also got emotional because of the character development, so that was nice, but the nicest feeling is the one I got by constantly reminding myself of how good it is to not be 17 or in high school anymore.

Now I’m left with a question – why does US media like to pretend high school is something worth missing? The characters seem to hate it, and yet the ending is all about how they’ll miss this time of their life. I’m two years out of high school and I haven’t missed it for a moment, and it’s not like people in my country seem to expect people to. Cultural differences again? Or is there something I just don’t get?

Then I finally figured out I could a 25€ giftcard at my local bookstore and start a Netflix account on my own without needing anyone’s help, which definitely widened the pool of material available to me.

To start out safe, I went back to a book-to-movie adaptation of a collection I read before I started blogging even in my first language, Let It Snow.

let_it_snow_posterI liked this so much more than Booksmart, surprisingly. Not because of… better quality of the original material, I don’t think so, but this time the dubbing wasn’t a tragedy and the movie wasn’t quite as heavy on my screen anxiety. Maybe it was the recent exposure (two movies only a few days apart from each other… wow Acqua) and maybe it’s really this specific story, but I managed to enjoy some parts of this, which is a lot for American movies about teenagers.

I don’t remember the book that clearly, but I have to say that as an adaptation this is both:

  • high quality, or at least, better than I remember the book being
  • not faithful at all – it’s almost more “inspired by the collection Let It Snow by Mauren Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle” than an actual adaptation, which is probably a positive thing

(In case it wasn’t already clear, I didn’t love that book.)

The main thing I loved about this adaptation/reimagining was how they took away a lot of space from Lauren Myracle’s short story, which I remember most people hated and that I didn’t love either, to give space to a sapphic romance. I don’t remember if there was any F/F content in the book, but it definitely wasn’t a major storyline as it was here – so much more space is given to Dorrie and Kerry’s romance than it is to Addie’s “woe is me I’m so self-centered that everyone hates me… maybe I shouldn’t be like that” storyline.
The sapphic romance still isn’t as developed as the two straight romances and it is written with straight lenses (it has the dreaded “person who is out pressures other person to come out” trope portrayed with no nuance whatsoever – the movie acts as if Kerry is wronging Dorrie by not being out) but I honestly don’t have it in me to nitpick the very little sapphic media that is legally available to watch in Italy. Also, this story might be a tired cliché and not a very good one, but it still had a lot of heart in it? Probably because the actors playing these two characters are both queer; that matters.

What I would have changed was the amout of space given to the characters of John Green’s short story, Tobin and Angie “the Duke”: their friends-to-lovers story is boring and has no flavor at all apart from the overwhelming heterosexuality and how much the main character is a typical John Green Novel Main Guy. (If you’ve read one of his novels, you know the type.) Their story had like… two funny moments and the creepiest romantic declaration I’ve seen in a long while (“when I see you with someone else I want to kill them”? What the…? What? Why didn’t Angie run? I hope that was a joke and that I didn’t get it.), which ruined what little good it had.
Though I have to admit their story had one of the funniest parts in the movie, the completely out-of-nowhere blasting of Rock the Casbah during the car chase. (…I couldn’t stop laughing at that.)

The main storyline, though, is pretty much unambiguously the normal girl/celebrity one, following Julie and Stuart. It was adorable, if really different from Maureen Johnson’s short story (the only story I remember liking). I’m glad that the main roles were given to two actors of color. I just wish the whole miniature decorative houses played a bigger part in the movie, as they do in the novel, because they’re cute.
Another thing the movie did right was that it got the atmosphere down perfectly. If there’s one thing these teen movies are good at and have in common, it’s being really pretty.
Also, tinfoil lady was the best character.

And this time, I’m again left with a question: is going in Africa for a semester after high school so… not uncommon for American students? It was mentioned both in here and in Booksmart. That’s “I’ve never heard of anyone in real life doing that” level of unusual for Italians.

Have you seen these? What did you think? What should someone with a Netflix account and time they should definitely be using to study watch?