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by: 
Emily, Teen Contributor

Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Bynes was dedicated to "All those who finally stand up for themselves," and is an incredible story of pain, fear, trying to do your best, and friendship. 

Eric "Moby" Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes have been friends for a long time, and are bonded by their deformities: Sarah has horrible burn scars over her face, neck, arms, and hands from a childhood incident involving boiling water, and Moby is incredibly overweight. They are inseparable as friends, so when Moby joins the school's swim team and begins to shed some pounds, he frantically tries to eat more to maintain the friendship he treasures and Sarah's respect. However, as soon as Sarah gets wind of this, she demands he stop. 

When Sarah is hospitalized and stops speaking entirely, Moby stays by her side to help her recover and get back on her feet. When she reveals to him the horrible secrets of her past, he sticks with her. With the aide of his swim coach, he even manages to get her back to a safe place. 

This book is extremely suspenseful, and encompasses fierce religious debates, attempted suicide, buried secrets, shady characters, intense dialogue, and knife wounds. Though the language gets a bit confusing at times, this novel is a must read. Not only a touching story of friendship, it also addresses a lot of issues that teens wrestle with today, about their beliefs and trying to do what is right, when you don't know what that looks like. This book really makes you look at what you believe, what kind of person you are, and what you would do stuck in the character's shoes. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes should definitely be added to your reading list!

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Be warned, this film is rated R.

Everything about the production of The Revenant is utterly fascinating and truly amazing. The choice to film only with natural light provided a small window of time every day, sometimes as small as an hour, to pull off certain shots. Filming in Canada as well as Argentina, in the wilderness and snow, was probably a challenge to say the least. The actors gave it their all, DiCaprio especially, who got sick twice and was forced to eat raw bison liver. He is a vegetarian. Tom Hardy also was committed, at one point choking out the director because they had an argument about the safety of certain stunts. One would think, with all of these production mishaps, the Revenant would have no chance of possessing quality. Surprisingly however, through all of the trouble filming it, The Revenant ended up a visceral and amazing film, well worth the tribulations of the team.

The Revenant stars Leonardo Dicaprio as mountain man Hugh Glass. Taking place during the 1820’s in the wilderness of America, he is part of a trading company on the run from the Arikara Indians. While scouting for his fellow huntsmen, Glass is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by members of his team, specifically the evil and cunning John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the need for revenge, Glass must limp, crawl, and squirm his way back to civilization, all alone.

A great set up for a film if ever there was any which only gets enhanced by the “based on a true story” aspect the film boasts. Every aspect of the film reflects the brutal and enticing premise, delivering excellence.

The acting is amazing, Leo grunting and screaming his way to another Oscar nomination (and maybe this year an Oscar win). Saying that he gave the movie his all is an understatement, his performance is more than committed if such a thing exists. Domhnall Gleason (whose face has been popping up a bunch this year with Brooklyn, Ex Machina, and Star Wars to name a few) gives one of the best performances of his career as Captain Andrew Henry, in charge of the whole trapping operation. The other supporting actors are great, helping create a real and brutal atmosphere, but the real standout is Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald. He steals every scene (even from DiCaprio), and is one of the best villains of the year.

The cinematography for the film is excellent, capturing the beauty of the wilderness as well as the brutality of the men, a jarring juxtaposition that is handled with evident skill. The Revenant is a beautiful movie if ever there was one, lovely shots all around. Emmanuel Lubezki appears to be jousting for his third cinematography Oscar in a row with this one (after winning for last year’s Birdman and the previous year’s Gravity), and I can think of no other person more deserving of the award.

The cinematography’s beauty is only possible through the masterful and experienced hand of Alejandro González Iñárritu. He crafts the film in such away that the suspense always intensifies, the shots are always astonishing, and the story is always engaging. Choosing to film in only natural light gives the movie weight, grounding it in reality. Many long shots are used throughout the film, specifically during intense moments of conflict, also contributing to the realism of it all.

The score is minimal, instead the sounds of the wilderness provide a background to the madness, but when it does come into play, it’s beautiful. 

At the end of the day, the film’s rocky production created an enticing and engaging film. It delivers on almost every level (perhaps it could have built an emotional connection to Glass’s son better, but that’s me nitpicking), and is one of the best movies in theaters right now and absolutely worth the price of the ticket. 9/10

Image Credit: Michael W. May on Flickr

by: 
Sophia, Teen Contributor

Genre: Sci-Fi

Would I Recommend: Yes

Series Number: 3 books

A book whose post-apocalypse plot is not only detailed and descriptive, but a distinct twist on the end of the world as we know it, Partials, by Dan Wells, gives a hectic glimpse into our future. Well written with a unique plot, though slow and dry in portions, this novel passes the time and offers an alternate reality whose characteristics are not far from improbable. If patient, reading the novel pays off with unseen changes and an ending that leaves you asking unanswered questions and running to the sequel.

If your into an action-packed sci-fi novel with a hint of romance and mystery, try Partials.

Check out the Partials Series.

by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Book Basics: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell  

Published: 2015, St. Martin’s Griffin 

Genre: YA, fantasy, romance 

Page Count: 528 (hardcover) 

Star Rating: ★★★★★ Your New Favorite Book 

Recommended For/If You Liked: Fans of Rainbow Rowell & Fangirl, as well as readers suffering from PPD (Post Potter Depression) and Drarry shippers. 

Short Summary: Simon Snow (who is, according to a prophecy, “the Chosen One”) is in his final year at the Watford School of Magicks. But his roommate and arch nemesis, Baz has mysteriously disappeared; the sinister Insidious Humdrum is growing stronger; magic is rapidly disappearing from certain spots across the UK; and the Old Families and the Mage’s supporters are at each other’s throats. Simon’s last year won’t be anything he expected. 

What I Liked: First off, I want to clarify a few things. If you’ve read Fangirl, then you know that the main character, Cath, writes fanfiction about a character named Simon Snow who’s penned by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie. Carry On is the full story of the characters that we meet in Fangirl. So, who exactly is writing Carry On? Is it written from Cath’s perspective, or Gemma T. Leslie’s?  As Rainbow Rowell says on her website, “I’m writing as me”.  I’ve heard Carry On described as Harry Potter fanfiction, but while there are parallels to the Potter universe, the characters are completely new and reimagined (and you don’t need to read Harry Potter to understand this story.)  One more thing: you don’t need to read Fangirl to read this book, but I highly recommend Fangirl. Okay, now for the review.

There are so many things that I loved about this book I don’t even know where to start. I almost like the development of this magical world more than the development of the Potter magical world- and that’s coming from a diehard Potterhead. This world was much more simple, and I liked that a lot; it left the reader to focus on the main plot line rather than trying to figure out how the World of Mages works. The character development was exceptional, and though they live in a fantastical universe, they were so, so real. The romance was perfectly written (as in all Rainbow Rowell novels) so folks, prepare yourselves for another addition to your OTP collection. I loved how Rainbow Rowell also included an interesting take on social classes, ethnic classes, sexuality, and self-discovery as they were all subtly incorporated into the story.  

What I Didn’t Like: Literally nothing. I’ve seen some complaints from other readers that the romance distracted from the main plot line, but it’s a Rainbow Rowell novel. What’d you expect? 

In Conclusion: I haven’t read a book I loved this much in a long time. The writing, the romance, the magic...this book was magic. READ IT. You’ll love it. 

Don't forget to check out my blog for more YA book reviews! 

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Be warned: This film is rated R. 

The Scottish Play has gone through hundreds, if not thousands of incarnations since it was first written by that brilliant bard, William Shakespeare. While the stage lays claim to the majority of the Macbeth renditions, there have been seven Macbeth films made in the past hundred years, which all began with the original 1948 version. Seven films, all using the same dialogue, the same situations, the same characters. It is inarguable that the writing’s eloquence is unsurpassed, simply because no other work of performance fiction has so often been produced. No one, not even the biggest Star Wars fan on earth, would want to see the original Star Wars IV, A New Hope, made into 7 different movies over 75 years, each with the same script. That is not a good time at all, but rather an exercise in monotony.

So due to the timelessness of the bard, there seems to be a feature adaptation yearly. This year the newest version of Macbeth hit the silver screen (I say screen singularly because that’s how the distribution felt. No major theater chains picked it up for some reason. Ridiculous), and, dare I say, this is one of the best Shakespearean films yet.

First the actors must be acknowledged for their fabulous performances. Michael Fassbender perfectly embodied Macbeth, capturing his descent into madness. This film is the best performance of his career. Marion Cotillard furthers the acting superiority throughout the film, giving a commanding turn as Lady Macbeth. The choice to cast her, a French woman with a French accent, gives the character Lady Macbeth more depth. It makes her a more foreign presence among the Scottish community. Traditionally Lady Macbeth is played as Scottish, so subverting tradition worked heavily in the movies favor.

The supporting cast all give the film their all when on screen. Notably, the fourth witch, a little girl, added to the mystical element of the film more than anything. In the traditional Shakespeare play, there are three witches who tell Macbeth of his fate. The added fourth is a good choice, strengthening the piece as a whole.

As is fairly evident, the film strays from the source material a bit from scene to scene. And this is a consistent thing throughout the film. However, every choice that the filmmakers made strengthened the cinematic aspect of the movie, telling the same story slightly differently, taking advantage of all the tools films possess that plays don’t.

The scenery is beautiful and daunting, great Scottish landscape seems to constantly dwarf the characters in comparison. The costume design is also excellent, each garment feels authentic and necessary. The sets are the same way; they feel as tangible as the performances.

I must end with the direction because it was astonishingly good. The fights were staged beautifully, with blows connecting in every level of the frame. Almost every frame could be frozen and hung on the wall, a truly beautiful film if ever there was one. Justin Kurzel clearly knew what he was doing, which makes his future projects all the more exciting.

Macbeth (2015)  is one of the best adaptations of any Shakespeare play. It delivers the story and language that the Bard is known for while creating a cinematic, engrossing experience. It is powerful, beautiful, and if there was any justice in the world, it would be nominated for almost every Oscar available. 10/10

For more reviews, visit my blog.

Check out other film adaptations of Macbeth at the library

Image credit: Dario on Flickr.

by: 
Emily, Teen Contributor

Photo taken by Emily in Frisco, CO. 

by: 
Jen, Teen Contributor

He looks into you

Sometimes as though if through you

What is he planning?

by: 
Emily, Teen Contributor

I wonder who made this path--

putting foot in front of 

foot until

he turned around

did the trail end along with

his sense of adventure

or

did he realize his

imprint on nature

was enough 

for the day?

 

by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Below is a collection of my top five favorite books, songs and albums, and movies from this year. Enjoy, and have a great New Year! 

Books 

1.All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. (Yes, the book was published in 2014. But I read it in 2015 and it was just so good I had to make an exception for it.) This historical fiction novel, set in Nazi-occupied France was enchanting, emotional, and beautifully written.  

2.My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Beautiful, honest, funny, emotional, romantic, touching...this book had it all. 

3.Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This combination of romance and magic was utterly perfect. 

4.Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. This coming out story was sweet, funny, and inspiring. 

5.We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. Four teenagers learn that their lives will end in a matter of weeks because of an asteriod hurtling towards Earth. Their next weeks are written with emotion, heart, and thought. 

Music 

1.American Beauty/American Psycho (album) / Fall Out Boy. FOB’s latest album delivers with plenty of rock n’ roll jams (Centuries, Immortals, Irresistible, and Uma Thurman) along with slower songs that you can sing your heart out to (The Kids Aren’t Alright, Jet Pack Blues, Fourth of July). 

2.25 (album) / Adele. Adele is back in all her glory, and this album proves that she’s just as good (maybe even better) than before. 

3.Ex’s and Oh’s / Elle King. Elle King combines alternative and pop into an irresistible jam. 

4.Renegades / X Ambassadors. This song will make you want to laugh, cry, and remember all that’s good in the world. 

5.Our Own House (album)  / MisterWives. A great introduction to this indie pop band features sing-along tracks and catchy songs.

Movies 

1.Me & Earl & the Dying Girl. This wonderful paper-to-screen adaptation made me laugh, cry, and never stop smiling. (Meeting the actors may have helped this movie win its spot at #1 on my list, but it was still a great movie) 

2.The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. The final, emotional, epic conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy was everything you hoped for (and more). 

3.Inside Out. Yes, this is a children’s movie, but it was sweet, emotional, and funny. (And you’re never too old for a Disney movie.)  

4.Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This movie reboot had the perfect mix of the old and the new for all generations to love it.  

5.Paper Towns. Though this movie wasn’t very good in comparison to the book, it was still a fun summer movie.  

 

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

It seems like it’s been ages since a heartfelt decent romance came out. Oh sure, scores of Nicholas Sparks films have been released (of course no one in their right mind could say they are objectively good), but even they all seem bittersweet, more concerned with tales of sadness than tales of love. Sparks wants to make the audience cry more than he wants to tell a decent story. Luckily for fans of the genre, romance just came back with a bang in the form of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn begins in the early 1950’s and  tells the story of a young woman named Elias (Saoirse Ronan). She realizes that there is nothing more for her in her hometown in Ireland, as does her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), so Rose enlists the help of a generous priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to send Elias to America. Elias arrives in New York, where she stays in a boarding house, goes to night school for bookkeeping, and works at a grocery store. Her life really begins when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an honest and kind Italian fellow who wants nothing more than for them to be together. Their relationship progresses, until a member of Elias’s family dies, forcing her to go back to Ireland for a time. In Ireland, where no one has heard of Tony, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to woo her, a kind and soft spoken man. Not only is he trying to be with her, but everyone else seems to be trying to keep Elias in Ireland. And so the decision is up to her. Elias has to choose Ireland and Jim, or Brooklyn and Tony.

The love story between Elias and Tony is one of the cutest and just altogether best things I have seen all year. Cohen and Ronan have unbelievably great chemistry and amazing acting talent. Every time their relationship progresses, it does so with ease and believability. They are so perfect together, I can’t imagine anyone who would root against them. This is really the star of the film.

The film, adapted from the popular novel by Colm Tóibín, is written splendidly. Nick Hornby, who wrote the adaptation, infuses every scene with heartfelt grounded dialogue. The situations come alive because of him; he gives the actors a lot to work with. Which is really to be expected from Hornby, author of numerous great novels and screenplays like About a Boy. There is a reason why his name is featured on every poster for Brooklyn, he is responsible for the film working so well.

All of the actors take Hornby’s words and enhance them further, all giving grounded and entertaining performances. Jim may be an antagonist in some ways, unwittingly  trying to take Elias away from Tony, but he is in no way a bad guy. Gleeson gives him so much character and meaning, you can’t help but like him, if only a little bit. Another notable performance is James Digiacomo as Tony’s 8 year old brother Frankie. Every time he’s on screen, he steals the scene with his hilarious antics. This film is an acting powerhouse.

The direction is nothing to ignore. John Crowley directs every scene with patience and grace, allowing the story to fully showcase itself. He sets up every frame as only a master can, and composes the picture wonderfully.

The art direction and costume direction are also great in this film. Elias’s gradually increasing bright colored outfits, mirroring her becoming a New Yorker, is done marvelously. The costumes and sets transport the viewer to a happier, more idyllic time.

A classic romance and period piece at the same time, Brooklyn is a fabulous picture. The acting, directing, writing, all come together to deliver a heartfelt love story. This is not a film to miss. 9/10

Check out more titles by Nicholas Sparks here.

Image Credit: Wally Gobetz on Flickr

 

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