Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Book Review)

13 Reasons Why is a new young adult TV series being released on Netflix this Friday (March 31st). There will be 13 episodes (all available on Friday) and the show is based on the novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, in which a teenage boy receives a package containing audiotapes recorded by a classmate who has recently committed suicide. The show was directed by Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy & produced by Selena Gomez. I read the book recently so figured I should review it before the show airs. Here’s my review…

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

What It’s About: (via Goodreads)
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.”

My Thoughts:

I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this book. I’ll say it was very “readable”. I usually take a good few weeks to read a book (due to lack of free time) but this was a quick & easy read plus I found that I really didn’t want to put it down as I was truly curious to see how it would end (I read it over a weekend). It’s an uncomfortable subject matter, however, and I still don’t know if I feel right about how it was handled. Plus, the below trailer for the TV show makes it look almost like an “exciting mystery”, which I don’t think is necessarily a responsible way to market the story. I guess we’ll see how the show unfolds. This IS a book about suicide. The only “mystery” is why the girl did it, which she explains in her audiotapes. The trailer’s mood just feels a bit off to me.

I’ll say this is very much a teen book but it didn’t feel immature or like the author had dumbed it down for its target audience. My teenage years are far far (far!) behind me but this book feels like it was written in a way that would seem genuine & relevant to a modern teen. I know nothing of the book’s success but I would imagine that current teens can relate to it whereas I feel that certain other young adult books are too obviously written by authors whose teen years are far far (far!) behind them. Okay, yeah – I’ve just looked up the author (Jay Asher) and he’s my sort of age. I also think that he did a good job with the character of Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide. It can’t be easy for a middle-aged man to capture the feelings of a teenage girl but I think he did well with her character (probably even better than with the main male character, Clay Jensen).

I’ll of course avoid major spoilers but the main moral of this story is to treat people with kindness and to be aware of the signs to watch for that may indicate that someone is suicidal. I of course agree with this message and would love to think that this book could save some lives but, well, I don’t think the world works that way. If anything, it worries me that this story could play into the rather typical teenage thoughts about suicide: that whole “this will make people notice me & understand what I was going through” thing. No. The bullies, etc? They didn’t care beforehand & they wouldn’t care afterwards. I hope no one thinks that because of this book. However, from the other point of view, who knows? Maybe it would help some teens to notice the warning signs & perhaps offer someone some help. Maybe. The nice ones. (Is it obvious that I thought a lot of the people in my high school were uncaring assholes?!)

I admit that Thirteen Reasons Why was a bit of a page-turner, even if the subject matter left me feeling uncomfortable. Clay listens to several cassette tapes from Hannah, each focusing on a different classmate & the role each person played in her final decision. This meant we were told several stories as Clay listened to each tape, which was an interesting way to set up this novel. Hannah Baker was a well fleshed-out character though, interestingly, kind of hard to like. Maybe that was partly the point… Due to various incidents, she turned inward so I suppose she was kind of ignored. Clay Jensen comes across as a little less genuine but I think this is due to his seeming so simple in comparison to Hannah’s complexity. Overall I’d probably recommend this book to anyone who likes young adult fiction and who is emotionally stable. But I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone who is anything like Hannah Baker’s character to read it…

My Rating: 3/5

Here’s the trailer for the Netflix series, starring Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen & Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker:

Goosebumps (2015) Review 

I’ll be finishing Creepy Dolls Week tomorrow with a reblog of a review I did of a British horror classic which happens to contain a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy. Today I’m reviewing a fun recent kids’ film which also happens to contain a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy. What is it with dummies?! They’re clearly evil. Let’s have a look at the Goosebumps movie… 🙂

Goosebumps (2015)

Directed by Rob Letterman

Based on Goosebumps by R. L. Stine

Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, Halston Sage

Music by Danny Elfman

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

My Opinion:

This was my seven-year-old’s first proper live action “scary movie”. I’m happy to report that she loved it. I was too old for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series when he started it but know I would’ve absolutely loved those books if they’d been around when I was younger. I grew up watching (the original) The Twilight Zone & The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from a very early age (probably 7 or 8) and have loved strange, scary, and/or supernatural & sci-fi stories ever since. As a pre-teen I got into Christopher Pike books (nice & weird – I loved those) and remember reading some pre-Goosebumps R.L. Stine (Twisted, The Babysitter, Blind Date – I had fun looking these up just now & remembering the covers!).

Anyway, I’m not going to force it but I’m hoping that this movie gets my daughter into liking these kind of stories a bit more now. Then she can be as weird as her mother! 😉 I’d love to read the Goosebumps books with her at some point. For those who’ve read them, what sort of ages would you recommend them for? I always thought they were aimed slightly older than this movie, which felt quite “young”. The movie stayed the right side of the line for my daughter – she was a little scared by some bits but I didn’t feel anything was too scary or at all inappropriate. If your kid doesn’t scare easily, I think this is fine for ages 7 & up. Goosebumps is a really fun family movie and, believe me, when you have young kids you appreciate when you start getting to watch some movies with them that you yourself can get some enjoyment from as well!

I of course won’t have had as much fun with this movie as those who read the Goosebumps series, though. I imagine this film was a real treat for his fans. The story’s setup is fantastic, which sees various R.L. Stine monsters brought to life when they’re accidentally released from the manuscripts he keeps locked in order to keep his out-of-control creations imprisoned. Jack Black plays R.L. Stine, which was fine by me as I’m a Jack Black fan & my daughter already liked him thanks to School Of Rock. The film’s concept was very bold & I think it works really well. Imagine this same story with Stephen King. That would be interesting! Can you imagine someone letting Pennywise loose?! (Although, that’s kind of happening in the US & UK at the moment with those asshole clowns running around). Look! Gnomes! I adore garden gnomes. I never thought of them as murderous before this movie…

The werewolf was also pretty cool…

But, of course, the main “monster” unleashed from R.L. Stine’s books is Slappy, this evil-looking ventriloquist’s dummy…

Yep. Dummies are evil! I’ve always known that. There are other creatures that are set loose but these were my favorites & Slappy is definitely the best (and most evil) of them all. He’s not overly terrifying, though – he’s “kid-friendly scary”. If that makes any sense. He won’t be in my nightmares but my daughter might now have a lifelong (healthy) distrust of creepy dummies. Oh, there’s also an abandoned amusement park in this movie (complete with working electricity somehow). I loved the amusement park scenes – what a perfect setting for a kids’ film.

There’s not much more I can really say about Goosebumps other than that it’s great when they actually make decent family films like this one. However, I know you’re unlikely to watch this unless you have children between 7 & 13ish or if you grew up reading the Goosebumps books. Dylan Minnette is fine as the lead teenage boy & I have to say I far prefer this film to the wildly overrated Don’t Breathe (so very NOT a family movie, FYI! Just comparing as he starred in both plus I just reviewed that one recently). I enjoyed Jack Black as always but I thought the biggest stars of this film were Slappy & Stine’s daughter (played by Odeya Rush). She’s a strong female character, which is always important to me as the parent of a girl. I loved a final twist to this movie, which I saw coming from the very start since I’ve lived & breathed these types of stories for 30+ years but know my daughter will have thought “Wow!” to the twist. That’s what I want to see! Her loving a strong story & great twist ending in the same way I did when watching all those Twilight Zone episodes as a kid. I can see Goosebumps being a favorite movie for a lot of kids & thinks it’s one that my daughter will forever be fond of.

My Rating: 7/10

CREEPY DOLLS WEEK ROUNDUP:

The Boy (2016)
Magic (1978)
Dolls (1987)
Annabelle (2014)
Finders Keepers (2014)
– Goosebumps (2015)
Dead Of Night (1945)
My Top Ten Creepy Dolls In Movies & Television

Don’t Breathe (2016) Review

Don’t Breathe (2016)

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Hoping to walk away with a massive fortune, a trio of thieves break into the house of a blind man who isn’t as helpless as he seems.

My Opinion:

I saw this a couple of weeks ago but figured I might as well save reviewing it for my October Horror Month. I had no intention of going to it based on the trailer but then it got a pretty high IMDB rating (for a horror – horror ratings are never too high). I need to stop looking at IMDB user ratings because the users seem to be more & more out of touch as the years go by. I’m making this sound like it was horrible now… It wasn’t. It was just “okay”. It’s the type of horror movie that I’ll remember very little of years from now except for one “shock scene” clearly meant to gross us all out. I saw this with a completely silent audience until that one bit, which got a big “ew” and a bit of a laugh. Gross. But at least it has one memorable part! I guess.

This movie suffers from one of my biggest horror movie pet peeves: Hateful characters. If you’ve seen the trailer & know the story, it seems like we’re meant to be on the side of the young criminals who break into the blind man’s home to rob him. Clearly he isn’t just some helpless old blind man after all but come ON – we need someone to root for in these films. Both the young criminals & the blind man are horrible people. Dylan Minnette was the least hateful of the main characters but, really, he’s still a criminal like the other two. Okay, the only character you really care about is the girl’s younger sister (the reason the girl, actress Jane Levy, is robbing people – to get her & her sister out of a terrible home situation). So that’s sort of a reason, I guess, to be on the side of a thief. But couldn’t they then make Levy’s character more likable as well?

Besides the decent reviews, I also decided to go to this as it was an interesting enough idea. Criminal teens find they have to defend themselves in a darkened home against a blind man who, unlike them, doesn’t need the lights on to defend himself. But that doesn’t really happen – there’s only a small part of the film in which they’re plunged into darkness. What’s the point, then? They clearly have the advantage of sight – it’s not that believable that this old man would so completely be able to hurt them. There’s a bit of him “using his senses” in creative ways but… Well, no – there’s not even much of that. This movie made me appreciate the Mike Flanagan film Hush, about a deaf woman terrorized in her home, SO much more. It was far more creative & the woman was a strong character who you were 100% rooting for. By the way, I’ll hopefully be reviewing Hush along with three other Mike Flanagan films at the end of this month…

I also realize that most horror movies are ridiculous so I do my best to suspend disbelief while watching them but there were way too many gaping plot holes to ignore in this one (and I’m not one to normally nitpick on this). The hubby loves to point these things out, though, so I got many comments coming from him during this one. The biggest problem for me was probably that THESE ARE THE WORST BURGLARS EVER. No way would these idiots have gotten away with all these robberies. They leave a huge trail with the first robbery we witness then again with the blind man’s home. I’m no expert on thievery but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t Google info about my target & his home or text my fellow thieves from within his home ABOUT the burglary I’m in the middle of. Plus I think the link between these burglaries had something to do with Dylan Minnette’s character’s dad working at the security company these homes use? Surely cops would make this connection pretty quickly?!? Ack.

Summary:

I didn’t totally hate this movie when walking out of it afterwards & I even thought it might be okay at first (when I thought we’d get to better know & like at least Levy’s & Minnette’s characters). A lot of the time I find that I like a movie slightly more after watching it & then thinking about it for a while (like when I reviewed Dario Argento’s Phenomena yesterday). Don’t Breathe is one of those rare occasions where the opposite is true – the more thought about it, the more I didn’t like it. If ridiculous plots & annoying characters don’t bother you and you’re curious about the one gross-out scene, go ahead & give this movie a go. Just be aware that a better title for this movie would have been Don’t Think.

My Rating: 5/10

**Thanks to the hubby (who was, I think, as disappointed with this movie as I was) for sending me a link to a fun website where you can vote on the main reasons why Don’t Breathe is “wildly overrated”. I’ve voted for a few myself but every single reason listed is accurate (don’t click the link if you want to stay spoiler-free, though). Vote on why this movie is overrated here: Ranker.com

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014) Review

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Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Based on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Starring:
Steve Carell
Jennifer Garner
Ed Oxenbould
Dylan Minnette
Kerris Dorsey
Bella Thorne
Elise & Zoey Vargas
Sidney Fullmer
Megan Mullally
Jennifer Coolidge
Dick Van Dyke

Running time: 82 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Alexander’s day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. Though he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother, and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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My Opinion:

Well, what can I say about this one? It’s a family movie aimed at kids. I thought it did a good job keeping various ages in mind (probably starting around age 7 or 8 & up) and I don’t think the parents who take their kids to this one will hate it or anything. I even think non-grumpy teens wouldn’t mind it as there’s a teenage brother (if there’s such a thing as a non-grumpy teen?). Sometimes the animated thing can be a little boring so you almost feel like you’re watching a “proper movie” at least when you start watching some live action stuff with your kid.

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I enjoyed this one just fine as a wholesome “family” movie. I didn’t know the story at all so don’t know how closely it follows the book. What I liked is that you see a day in the life of each family member so you get each of their stories as they each have their own “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Being the age of the parents I of course liked their stories, especially Jennifer Garner’s book publishing fiasco (with a visit from Dick Van Dyke. Chim Chim Cher-ee!). The title character, Alexander, is just turning 12 so you have the story of his birthday party drama as well as his teenage brother’s prom drama, his older sister’s school play drama, and both his parents and their separate work dramas.

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It’s of course a little “silly” at times but not to the point that I found it at all irritating, which is more than I can say for a lot of kids’ films. The kids felt “real” as opposed to some perfect-looking actors and the family felt like a realistic, loving family plus they didn’t bicker in obnoxious ways (which is far too common in some family movies and always gets on my nerves). Jennifer Coolidge has a small role as the teenage brother’s driving instructor. She may be a “love her or hate her” but I love her – she always cracks me up! Steve Carell is also not to everyone’s taste but I don’t think anyone would mind him in this – he plays it straight. OH! And the baby “brother” is played by the same set of twin girls who played the baby girl in Bad Neighbours (aka Neighbors). Most adorable babies EVER.

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Summary:

This is a perfectly fine wholesome family film that’s actually pretty fun and has something for everyone as there are characters of varying ages with each of their own storylines. Even Jennifer Garner’s character using the word “penis” was still wholesome (and one of the funniest bits! but that may just be me showing my maturity level). I saw a few negative “critic” reviews but, seriously – lighten up grumpy butts! What do they expect – The Godfather for kids? Sometimes you wonder if certain adults were ever kids themselves. This movie is what it is and I consider it a perfectly acceptable form of simple family entertainment that isn’t too preachy or too stupid – it’s just meant to be fun.

My Rating: 6/10

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