Friday, October 30, 2009

This Is It

This Is It is a must for die-hard Michael Jackson fans, for those who simply liked the music of this amazing musician and songwriter and for anyone who wants to see "The King of Pop" perform one last time. The documentary is a montage of film footage of interviews, auditions and rehearsals for what would have been his 2009 concerts at London's O2 Arena. These were filmed for Michael's later private use and with the permission of the Michael Jackson estate were pieced together to make This Is It.

This Is It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience (in spite of my recovering from a viral illness). I was delighted that Michael's voice, at age 50, was almost as good as I remembered from the 1980's. Jackson spoke constantly during rehearsals about his need to conserve his voice, which he often seemed unable to do perhaps because he got carried away by the music and his need for perfection.

I also thought Jackson's face didn't look as bad as I expected. It was apparent he'd had an immense amount of plastic surgery but he didn't look as strange as some of the pictures I'd seen of him. I was impressed by his respectful attitude towards all the performers whom he treated very professionally. It was also interesting to see MJ's use of modern digital and CGI effects for some of his songs, especially Smooth Criminal and They Don't Care About Us.

There are interviews with dancers, band members including the talented Australian guitarist, Orianthi Panagaris, costumers and trainers.

In the end, I was left with a mixture of feelings; thrilled to have seen what would have eventually been concert performances, sad at Jackson's untimely death, and wondering if he could have redeemed himself if he had been able to perform again.

You can view various clips of the rehearsal footage at the This Is It website.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

After by Amy Efaw

Update February 10, 2011: After contacting the author Amy Efaw in late 2009 via facebook and discussing the error in her book, After, regarding pregnancy, Ms. Efaw assured me that a correction would be made to the paperback edition. I had provided her with a link to a website which details fetal development and information on the fertilization process. Sadly, the paperback edition which my library received does not contain a correction. It does not take a woman SIX WEEKS to become pregnant. I am disappointed that this misinformation was not corrected because many teens will incorrectly believe that at 6 weeks of pregnancy a "fertilized egg" will not yet have implanted. This of course could have consequences in the decisions they may make in situations of unplanned pregnancy.

"Who would leave her own baby in the trash to die", asks the inside cover of After. This gripping novel about dumpster babies, opens with Devon Sky Davenport, model student, and elite soccer player, in crisis on That Morning. Devon has just given birth to a baby whom she has spent the previous nine months denying exists. Devon, always in control, has made it her life mission NOT to be like her mother, who was an unwed mom at age 16. But after a brief sexual encounter with an "older" boy, Devon goes into deep denial and dissociation by rationalizing away her sexual activity, her missed periods, morning sickness and growing abdomen. Until That Morning.

Through the use of flashbacks, Amy Efaw takes us along Devon's path to That Morning when she went from being a star athlete and student to a new mom confronted finally with the reality of IT, the baby whom she just gave birth to and whom she wants dead. The flashbacks occur during the sessions that Devon has with her lawyer, Dominique Barcelona, who acts more like a mental health therapist than legal counsel.

At times, the scenario's Efaw portrays are heartrending - a little girl often left alone and scared while her mother is gone for weekends at a stretch, her mother's steady stream of boyfriends and the frequent moves and jobs. Added to this is the apparent emotional immaturity of Devon's mom and Devon's attempt to meet her mother's needs. Sadly, what Amy Efaw has described here are none too familiar to many children growing up in single parent homes.

These glimpses into Devon's past help us to understand how Devon goes into such deep denial of her sexual activity and her subsequent pregnancy. But with the help of her legal counsel, we gradually see Devon facing up to the fact that she deliberately chose to isolate herself from those who could help her including the boy she was involved with, her mother who faced the exact similar situation 15 years earlier and who for the first time in Devon's life might have been able to be there for her, and her soccer coach who was like a father to her.

Since Efaw's husband was a prosecuting attorney at one time, it would seem that the American justice system as portrayed in After is reasonably accurate. However, there is one glaring error which young readers likely won't pick up on and it's in the realm of biology.

On page 294, Efaw describes an exchange between defense attorney Barcellona and physician Dr. Katial who examined Devon when she was 6 weeks pregnant, ostensibly for a soccer physical. Katial did not know that Devon was pregnant although during the exam he most certainly would have picked up some clues (her enlarged uterus for one thing). Devon had told Katial that she had on a pad because she had her period. Barcellona is questioning Dr. Katial on spotting during pregnancy and Katial replies
"Spotting can occur when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy."

This statement is scientifically inaccurate and no doctor with ANY knowledge of fetal development would make it. First of all, there is NO such thing as a "fertilized egg" and secondly, the blastocyst implants around day 5 or so. By day 10 following conception, implantation is complete. By 6 weeks, Devon's baby would have a contracting heart, and developing facial features and arm and leg buds.

It's this kind of inaccuracy that bothers me in books. And to be honest, the entire sentence really never needed to be put in there in the first place since the author's intent was have the lawyer demonstrate that Devon could have been experiencing spotting which she misunderstood to be her period. I considered the possibility that this was a typo but since Efaw returns again and again to the 5 and 6 week stage during this entire page of interaction between the two characters, I think it's simply an error.

Overall, this is a well written and unique novel that will encourage teens to think seriously about sexuality, pregnancy, relationships and about the consequences of actions. The well described plight of Devon and her mother make a strong case for abstinence in the teen years.

Kudos to the unique cover.

After website

Friday, October 2, 2009

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins was born in Kolkata, India and lived in various countries before emigrating to the United States. If you'd like to find out more about her, please do check out her website, Mitali's Fire Escape. Her website has poetry and short fiction contests, webpages about her fiction and about her personal life.

I have read two of Mitali's books, Rickshaw Girl and just recently, Monsoon Summer which I enjoyed immensely. The latter is about an American born East Indian girl named Jasmine "Jazz" Gardner who spends the summer in India. Summer is the monsoon season in India, and that means it's a time of madness and magic.
Jazz's father is American while her mother was an Indian orphan who was adopted by an American couple. Her mother arranges this trip to her native India to help the orphanage she was adopted from and the entire family tags along to help out as well.

But for Jazz, the trip means leaving behind the boy she's fallen in love with - Steve Morales who is also her business partner and best friend from kindergarten. The trouble is, while Jazz has come to acknowledge her feelings for Steve, she is certain Steve does not share feel the same way about her.
This novel deals primarily with Jazz opening her heart up to helping out others as well as opening up to Steve about her love for him. It is Danita, a lovable, warm and realistic character who really helps Jazz the most and who adds so much charm to this novel. Danita helps Jazz reconcile her Indian heritage and learn to feel comfortable with who she is, and who helps her to feel comfortable with her feelings for Steve. She also helps Jazz to step outside her own narrow world. In return, Danita gets a chance to make a better life for herself.
A subplot about her mother learning more about her background and time at the orphanage is never really developed. The book focuses more on Jazz and her long distance relationship with Steve over the summer and her relationship with Danita.

This is a romantic, coming of age novel that will appeal to younger teens, with a side focus on helping others along life's journey and on a first world teen reaching out to third world peers.
Highly recommended.