May 262013

We are not done with Twilight spin-offs. This time the boy is mortal and the girl is facing a coming-of-age dilemma of whether she will be claimed by the dark or good forces as a witch. The inelegant choice of word for ‘witch’ in Beautiful Creatures is ‘caster’. At least, it is an appropriately Southern-sounding nominalisation or verb-into-noun transformation — someone who casts spells is a caster.

The book, and film, taken on by screenwriters Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is set in the small town of Gatlin in South Carolina. The hero is Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), whose father remains confined to his room (and is never revealed on screen). The apple-cheeked lad dreams of escaping the town but meets and falls in love with the dark-haired Lena (Alice Englert) only to learn that her family isn’t quite ‘normal’. This just means plenty of Addams Family couture trotted out in a True Blood setting of the gallant South: Lashings of black eye-make-up for the ashen-faced mother and silk cravats for Jeremy Irons, who plays Lena’s father.

As the plot trundles along, Lena and Ethan slowly begin to uncover secrets about the founders of Gatlin, which ultimately affects their relationship. As Lena’s 16th birthday approaches, the action intensifies, as this would be the D-day to decide which force she will side with. Her decision-making is complicated by the arrival of über-caster, Mrs Lincoln played by a stout Emma Thompson. Poor Ethan, with no powers as a mortal, is caught in the middle of the family feud over which way Lena will go.

And thus, the supernatural is the theme of this film much in the same vein as the Twilight saga — a mortal loves an unnatural being. In another similarity to the Twilight saga, here too family and friends are drawn in as pawns in the “war” of good vs evil. And as it rages on, it becomes difficult for the viewer to pick a side because the antagonist characters are the ones providing the most entertainment.

The other side of young adult fiction

1. Hatchet

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Instead of panicking, crying, and giving up, he decides to own the wilderness. He learns how to build a fire, eats turtle eggs, and fights off bears. And that’s all before the tornado shows up.

2. Watership Down

In the rabbit warren, Fiver, sees terrifying visions of the destruction of his home. Led by his brother Hazel, a small group of them leave in search of a new home. Reminiscent of the dystopian 1984 by Orwell and We by Yevgeny Zamiyatin, Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a classic that has terrified and enthralled children and has never been out of print. Also watch the 1978 animated film.

3. The Book Thief

Given the novel’s title, you might think it’s about a Da Vinci Code-type character finding clues in the world’s oldest books. Nope. The Book Thief is about nine-year-old Leisel in Nazi Germany. She loves reading so much that she steals books from Nazi book burnings and from the mayor’s wife’s personal library. Oh, and the novel is narrated by Death.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 26th, 2013.

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