Sunday, 24 August 2014

Does YA Challenge or Reinforce Gender Stereotypes?

You may have remembered a few months ago, I begged for responses to a long thing about gender and stereotypes and then a few weeks later I begged for responses to a shorter one. HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR GIVING ME RECS OF WHAT TO READ AND THINK ABOUT AND/OR DATA TO QUOTE HERE! 
This was for a level two project, also known as a higher project qualification or HPQ. We got to choose anything to research and come up with a 2000 word essay on it. It was finished in February 2014, and came back with an A* :)
 Anyway, I chose to write about YA and how heavily gender stereotypes feature in it. A googledoc of this essay can be found here; the essay is uncut here, but there you can find the whole bibliography, and results of the shorter surveys. What do you think? Does YA challenge or reinforce gendered stereotypes, or is it changing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Does Young Adult Fiction challenge or reinforce gender stereotypes?

Gender stereotypes invade every aspect of life. From the moment a child is born and pronounced a boy or a girl, they will have the trappings of gender thrust upon them.  However, by the time they are teenagers, they will have started questioning these, and many other things about the world around them.   Literature written for teenagers, also known as Young Adult literature (YA), addresses many issues such as grief, bullying, drugs, suicide and rape. However, in my years reading a wide range of books on the market, I have not found many books that prominently challenge gender stereotypes, unless it is one of the few with a main character on the transgender spectrum. I have also often thought about the more general representation of gender throughout YA-the characteristics, traits and ideas attached to characters of different genders. In my time as a book blogger, I have also grown to know the methods of marketing YA literature, and I am going to analyse these, and if and how gender plays a part in these.  Gender stereotypes are rife throughout all forms of media, not just young adult literature. But as teens question and explore life, and are influenced by the media they consume, the books they read challenging or reinforcing gender stereotypes will help form their ideas that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Theatre Reviews: I Need a Doctor and Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth

Title: I Need a Doctor: The Whosical

Director: Benjamin Occhipinti
Major cast: James Wilson-Taylor and Jessica Spray
Seen at: Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe
Review: Jamie and Jess are two Whovians who want to perform a Doctor Who themed musical. Who have recieved a Cease and Desist notice from Stephen Moffat. Oh well-changes can be made so copyright infringement can be avoided, right? With this in mind, Jamie and Jess take on the roles of a companion, A Doctor, and multiple villians, and journey through time and space in the TARD- Phone Box. I wasn't sure if I was going to see this, but then I got told they make fun of Moffat and I was sold.
Its a very clever parody. Yes, they do  make fun of Moffat, using fairy godmother Amy Wand, who continually advises Jess to obey the Doctor and stay where she is. Like companions of a better time, Jess ignores her and goes and has adventurers.
Both performers, and the pianist, are very good at what they do. The multiroling that Jamie does is brilliant, especially when portraying A Doctor and Da Master simultaneously.
Jokes come continually, a mix of Who-related, musical related, generally awesome lines, and one thing that was set up from the start just to include
which just made the whole show better.
 [if you can't see it, that’s the BARROWMAN gif]
The original songs are catchy, and funny. I also likes how they included changed bits from other musicals like The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (the Exterminators), Confrontation (from Les Mis, A Doctor and Da Master), and Music of the Night Phantom of the Opera  [edited] (from Phantom, Da Master and Jess, leading to "sing for me, angel....bloody hell!")

Overall Strength 4 tea to a really fun show that every Whovian and every fan of musicals (that catches most of you guys, right?) must see.
Links: Company

Title: Shakespeare’s Avengers Assembleth
Performed by: Drake's Drummers Theatre Company
Seen at: Greenside Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe
Review: Queen Elizabeth is about to be crowned, making England Protestant. Knowing that The Pope will try and keep England Catholic she commissions William Shakespeare to write a play with his greatest heroes,  warning of Catholicism. The Vatican's High Inquisitor is not happy about this, and he in turn summons Shakespeare's greatest villains. This results in a cobbled together play starring Cardinal Dave, William Shakespeare, and his greatest characters (and Brutus).
I was very excited about seeing this play. I knew it wasn't going to be Marvel's characters in Shakespearean (though that would have been awesome too), and was excited to see how they'd all interact.
There were lots of running gags that always made me laugh, such as Hamlet  always talking to Banquo, Ophelia's offstage actions, Brutus being very stabby and the High Inquisitor's grasp on his religion.
Interpretation of characters was a mix of brilliant and...interesting. I loved the characterisation of Brutus, Macbeth, and Juliet.
The plot wasn't great, and the play within a play was impossible to follow. I think that might have been intentional though, judging by the jokes about it within the script. This play should be judged more on its jokes; the oneliners, physical things, and ones that take a bit more time  to set up.
The cast multiroled and played off each other really well. The lighting and stage were kept very simple, and I think as well as a riff off Shakespeare, it's also a comedy about very amateur productions and how they get produced (that is, badly organised, lots of arguements, and lots of laughs, which is highly highly accurate). 
Overall Strength  4 tea to a fun story and spin on Shakespeare's characters.

Theatre review- Travesti

Title: Travesti
Director: Rebecca Hill
Performed by: Unbound Productions
Major cast: John Askew, Dominic Attenborough, Aled Bidder, Hugo Bolton, Stanley Elridge, James Lawrence
Seen at: Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe

Review: Six men tell women's stories about things such as makeup, pressure, sex, and assault.
The set of six revolving mirrors is very effectively used throughout, as ironing boards, kitchens, display boards, and hanging spaces for the suits the actors wear at the start.
For a cast that all works very well together, I found it a shame that they put some actors out of action at various points in, the play, and they don't return until the end.
At times, they used songs to transition to the next topic. Props to Francesca Fenech, musical director, for putting in some really nice harmonies. Also, the actors have very good voices.
In parts, there's two or more stories being told at once. I have mixed reactions to this; it works at times when two contrasting opinions on one topic are being related, but sometimes it seems like they're talking over each other and interrupting in midsentence just for the sake of it  which made both stories disrupted and harder to follow.
They talk about a good range of topics, and it's interesting to see lots of perspectives on things.
Each individual actor is very good at using movement to emphasise the point that is being made. This is especially clear at the points when they strip, the way they do so and their expressions showing how the person being objectified at that point feels.
The concept of Travesti is a very good one, and does make you think about the differences between expectations and perceptions of genders in society; for example, people were laughing when the men were grinding and singing Do What You Want With My Body, while if it were women doing it then it wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. It's a very good play to see starkly the way different genders are treated in society, in situations ranging in seriousness.

Overall: Strength 4 tea to a thought provoking, well performed piece that everyone should watch.

Links: Company

Monday, 11 August 2014

Theatre Review-Lysistrata by Christopher Adams and Aristophanes

So, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe festival. It was brilliant-most shows. I’m only going to review the shows I really enjoyed though-I don’t really see much point in spending time writing a 250 word review saying “this was okish.” So over the next week, here’s my pick of shows.

Title: Lysistrata
Writer: Christopher Adams and Aristophanes
Director: Christopher Adams
Performed by: DEM Productions
Major cast: Lousia Holloway, Charlotte Mulliner, River Hawkins and Robert Willoughby
Seen at: C Nova
Review: It starts with Lysistrata's birthday party and her friends have bought her a stripper. But prices are rising, they can't pay and so he leaves. Lysistrata, angry with the austerity measures and work exploitation and the state of Greece in general, convinces her friends to withold sex  until the men of Greece sort out the situation.
I've read Lysistrata by Aristophanes and I thought this was a very clever adaptation. I love the relavence of the Greek  financial crisis and the use of social media as a rallying call to women.  The transitions between rhymed verse and normal speaking is quite jarring  and the tone set up at the beginning means the verse sounds really out of place.
It starts off a faithful modern adaptation, as much as you can do with four actors, distilling choruses down to single people and using sound effectively to create crowds. Then about the 2/3 mark I think (I’m not entirely sure) it gets very different, a lot darker, and by the end I'm thinking two things: this was meant to be a comedy and the writer seriously thinks Greece is screwed. I left thinking “woah. Not expecting that.” and I think it worked in this version [possible spoiler-highlight to see] as the war on austerity would obviously take time to fix and not be sorted by a sex strike in one night, as opposed to a war being fought by men who could easily stop. [end spoiler]
All four actors are very good. Louisa Hollway is Lysistrata throughout, doing well as a drunk angry woman who wants change, but also good at showing a more vulnerable side. The other three actors multirole, often crossdressing, creating very different characters through voices and movement.
The logistics could have been better. I sat in the centre of the third row, but a few scenes were on the ground, an unraised stage, so only the front row could really see, and the actors didn't have microphones so it was really hard to hear them when music was playing, meant to be in the background but drowning the actors out.

Overall: Strength 4 tea to a strong modernisation and adaptation.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Book Review- Bombmaker by Claire McFall

Title: Bombmaker
 Author:  Claire McFall
Published:  1 February 2014 by Templar
Length:  336 pages
Source: publisher
Other info:  Claire has also written Ferryman, which I reviewed here and won the Scottish Booktrust Award.
Summary : The English government have closed the borders with their Celtic neighbours. Any Celt found in England is branded with a tattoo, found twice they are executed. Scottish Lizzie is the 'property' of psychopathic London gang boss Alexander. Can Lizzie escape Alexander's deadly grip and at what price her betrayal?

Review: Following bad economic times, England closes the borders with Scotland and Wales  and brings in  a new policy: Celts found in England are branded. Branded Celts in England are killed. Lizzie is one such branded Celt, who is the "property" of Alexander, a gang boss in London, who keeps her around for her bombmaking skills. as time goes on, Lizzie realises she might like a life outside the gang. Which is something that Alexander does not like at all.
I read McFall's Ferryman last year and really enjoyed it. I was looking forwards to this, especially with everything going on about the Scottish Independence referendum. Extreme nationalist governments make good reading (not real life), and so do gangs. Add in promises of a clever awesome female character and I'm sold.
You very quickly get pulled into Lizzie's world, both the political climate and the gang life that she’s part of. It’s a world that is believable, if you imagine that a yes vote leads to extreme xenophobia on the  English peoples’ part (ie just a huge ramp up of how it is now).
I love the fact that all the characters are well fleshed out really well. You really get close to them, even if that closeness is not something that you really want to be. Alexander’s creepiness seems to know no bounds. Lizzie, I liked a lot; she’s resourceful, and you want things to go right for her, even though they tend not to. I loved reading about them and how they got where they are and where they want to go.
It’s very very different to Ferryman. McFall writes well in both softer afterlife stories and gritty thrillers. I’m looking forwards to see what she does next.

Overall:  Strength 4 tea to a fast paced relevant  dystopia.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Book Review- Run by Gregg Olsen

Title: Run
 Author: Gregg Olsen
Series:  Vengeance #1

Published: May 2014
Length: 256 pages
Warnings: off-stage past rape and killings
Source: publishers
Summary : What if you discovered that everything you thought you knew about yourself was a lie?

Rylee is fifteen. She comes home from school one afternoon to find the most shocking thing possible - her father dead, with a knife through his heart, and a key clutched in his hand. Her mother's purse is on the counter, but she appears to be long gone. A message in blood is written on the floor... RUN.

With her brother in tow, Rylee begins a dark journey, one that will uncover horrific and chilling crimes and lead her to an unexpected and gruesome discovery about her real father and what - or who - is behind his insatiable desire to kill. By the journey's end Rylee's childhood is a long way behind her...

RUN is the first title in the new Vengeance series, following Rylee as she begins to piece together the story of her life and to avenge unpunished crimes - starting with her own. This is DEXTER with a feisty female protagonist unlike any other in contemporary young adult fiction.
Review: Rylee, having come home from school to find her father dead, her mother missing, and message that just says “RUN”, gets her brother and runs.
I was excited to read this because I’ve read bits of Olsen's Envy, and liked it, and the trailer that HKB made was quite good (music win).
It starts off very quickly, the set up from the summary happening in the first chapter, and the running happening in the second. This pace is kept up throughout, which was good, and I read this in one sitting.
The mystery as to what happened is quickly partially  revealed in favour of a thriller story, which I didn't mind. I liked the fact that we get to meet lots of characters as Rylee tries to discover how things happened to others that fits into her current situation (not very well worded in comparison to the book, but I can't explain it better without spoilers), who each brought clues to the table. The way it developed was good, but the twist at the end was predictable.
The  main reason I didn't enjoy this was Rylee. I don't know why I disliked her so much, but I just didn't care for her or her story or the way it turned out. Maybe it was her narration; there's some interjections and thoughts which are kind of obvious. Maybe it was her, she seems a little too conveniently prepared to know what to do, and I didn't think she developed. It was probably the romance; there's a short flashback and a facebook conversation with a guy in the middle of the book (and why are you even worrying about facebook when all this is happening?) and the ending just comes out of nowhere and the book could have easily done without it because it just seems like an afterthought that wasn’t properly explored.
Overall:  Strength 2 tea to a turny fast thriller, that I didn’t get into as much as I’d hoped.