Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Emily Giffin's 'The One and Only'

I've been tempted to read Emily Giffin before, because I'd heard she was a great author. But one thing always held me back: the plot lines. The two books I'm most familiar with, Something Borrowed and Something Blue, are centered around infidelity. I'm really bothered by infidelity, and have no interest in reading about characters who partake of it. Although the book explores the ethics of adultery, I could just never bring myself to pick it up. I was intrigued by this New York Times bestselling author, but the plot lines of those two novels were just too off-putting for me.

I was exploring the library in our new town (which, by the way, is absolutely adorable. There's a gazebo and everything!) when I came across a new release of Giffin's titled The One and Only. It was about small town life in Texas, and a protagonist obsessed with football. It sounded quirky and interesting and, best of all, free of adultery.

Our adorable library!

There are two main story lines in mainstream media that really bother me: adultery and, ahem, sluttiness (for both males and females). Adultery bothers me because now it is often the protagonist committing the offense, and because they're likable, you want to forgive them and justify their actions. After years of watching television, movie and book characters cheat and lie, it becomes less offensive simply because of overexposure. But it deeply bothers me, and its an irreversible path. Once I see a character cheat, I never look at them the same again. Spoiler alert for early seasons of How I Met Your Mother: once Ted cheats, I could never root for him the same way. With the sluttiness case, the loose morals of the whole HIMYM gang can get a little appalling. I know we're living in the 21st century, but I really don't know how none of them have an STD. Especially Barney. Just…ew. I love the characters, and they're so engaging, but Marshall and Lily are my favorite because they love each other so deeply and they're monogamous (or so I assume. I haven't seen the last season yet, so no spoilers please!). And that's my rant against the adulterous and slutty society that's portrayed on our television screens, and yet another reason why I watch so much Disney.

Back to Giffin's latest book. I love her writing style. She combines realistic dialogue, lovable and unique characters, descriptions and settings so flawlessly that you can't help but marvel at how well its written. Her characters are written with such empathy that when she describes that Texas heat, you can't help but feel the sweat drip down your back, too, even if you're reading in the nice, cool AC. I enjoy getting to know her characters as though they're new friends, and when the book ends, I was sad to not get to spend more time with them.

The only thing keeping me from totally loving this book was an important plot point that I can't discuss because it's a new book and I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't read it. There's one plot twist that just seemed weird, and a little far-fetched, and it just plum irritated me. I saw it coming, and I willed it away, but it came anyway. Sigh. If only the characters could hear us. As soon as I saw the first sign, I thought, please don't go there. Then, when she went there, I thought well, this is how that is going to play out. And it was. I'm either very intuitive, or the plot was slightly predictable. She definitely did her research, as her football-crazy protagonist, Shea, knew her stuff. Giffin also did a great job of handling grief, and its long-term affects. I loved everything about the book, except the one thing I can't say!

It was still a really enjoyable read, and I'm glad I got over my fear of all of her books seemingly condoning adultery (since I haven't read the two referenced previously, I can't say that they do condone adultery. I remember my sister telling me they didn't, but the impression I've gotten from the descriptions was too condoning for me to read it). I've already started reading another of her previous books, Baby Proof, and am thoroughly enjoying it so far.

Have you read Emily Giffin? What's your take on our cheating culture? Do you think media condones it, or does it not bother you? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Girl Meets World pilot review

Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for the shows Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World

As a true 90s kid, I grew up on a steady stream of choose-your-own-adventure books, hose water, days spent in the swimming pool, and Friday nights watching TGIF. Sabrina, Boy Meets World, Sister Sister. I loved them all, but especially Boy Meets World. Last year, when I heard the original creators were working with Disney Channel to make a new show about Cory and Topanga's daughter, Riley, I got ridiculously excited. Like, jump up and down, think about getting cable again excited.

Alas, we're still cable free. I just can't bring myself to pay such an exorbitant monthly fee when I would primarily watch Disney Channel. But if Disney starts offering just their channel, you know I'll be the first on board.

Because Disney is amazing and wonderful, they've created a WatchDisney app that allows even those of us without cable to watch their shows (after they air, of course). While I'd wanted to re-watch the entire Boy Meets World series before watching the new show, there just wasn't time. And it isn't on Netflix instant, which should probably be a crime in itself. Technology makes things that seem impossible possible, and YouTube played a hand in helping me watch the pilot for Girl Meets World before it even aired on the Disney Channel.

I'm always hesitant to write reviews for pilots because often the pilot isn't reflective of the show. There are many shows that I've loved that had lackluster pilots. The first time I watched the Parks and Recreation pilot with my husband, he thought it was dumb. He wouldn't give it another shot for at least a season or two. I wasn't super impressed, but I was willing to give it a second chance. Thankfully we did, as it is amazing and we love it. All of this review is written in the light of the knowledge that pilots are just a stepping stone. Sometimes they lead to great things, and sometimes they don't.

I really enjoy the characters. That's why I loved Boy Meets World,  for the characters. Cory, Topanga and Shawn were the reason I tuned in every Friday. I liked seeing the plots too, of course, which were relatable and I felt would somehow help prepare me for my future (ha! Like getting engaged at a high school graduation is normal! Someone tell The Secret Life of the American Teenager that that only works once on TV, and Boy Meets World already did it better). The characters were fully developed, likable, and flawed. Even the adults. That was such an important lesson to impart on kids, and families in general. There is no perfect person. There is no perfect parent. But if you follow your heart, you'll find the person perfect for you, and they'll help you be a phenomenal parent.

Girl didn't disappoint with the character development. Cory is trying to balance being a parent and a teacher at the same time, in the same place. Riley is trying to find who she is. Maya is trying to disguise her desire for a more normal family with rebellion (sound familiar? Hi, female Shawn!). Of course Riley's best friend is a Shawn. It's genetically probably that Cory, caring, sweet Cory, would have a daughter with the same personality traits. Of course she'd befriend the girl most like Shawn, just like Cory. It might make sense in TV world, but it makes sense in the real world too. We see Maya struggle, just as we see Riley struggle, to find her place. That's what the show, the original and this re-tool, are about. Finding your place. Making the world your own.

I loved the show, but I will concede that they reference 'making the world your own' a little too frequently. Certain scenes are a little over-acted. As a former teacher, I did cringe a little when Cory handed his classroom over to the student. But then I watched an old Boy Meets World episode, titled Teacher Bet, where Mr. Feeny did the same thing. Sometimes students learn best by teaching it to others.

I was also super disappointed to discover the show is set in New York City. It seems that every Disney show is now set in a city. Many kids still live in suburbs or the country, so I was hoping Girl would show a non-city-set childhood in just one of their shows. I loved the town that Boy was set in so much that I researched it to see if it was a real place and, if so, if I could live there. But Boy, and I hope Girl does as well, isn't really about setting. It's about community. Cory lived in a strong community, and that's what made that location so desirable. Well, that and four seasons, a cool house, and he could ride his bike to school.

A recent Disney Channel show trend is having primarily inept parents. Yes, all parents do goofy things. But the lengths that the Bob and Amy Duncan characters on Good Luck, Charlie went to were just too extreme. Their actions directly hurt their kids, like when Amy messed up Teddy's Yale interview. I like seeing parents that aren't idiots. I think it's important for kids to see that parents aren't idiots. When I was growing up, my TV shows showed parents as people you could go to to guide you in the right direction. Parents and teachers were trustworthy, and wanted you to seek them out for help. Now TV depicts parents and teachers as dumb, selfish, vain, self-centered mishaps who can do very little right. It's my main beef with Disney: I want to see parents as helpful, not hurtful. I'm not saying everything a parent says or does should be right; parents make mistakes, too. The Matthews parents on the original Boy Meets World made mistakes, and learned from them. That's the key: show kids how to learn from mistakes.

I think it's promising that the first episode tackles a major teen issue: peer pressure from a close friend. It's easy to forget that as a teen, your friends had just as much of an influence on you as your parents. Maya's rebellious influence gets Riley in trouble, but it also makes Riley learn to stand up for herself. Cory would never ask her to not be friends with Maya, but Riley, not realizing this, makes a stand.

It wasn't until I was reading other reviews that I realized Feeny's appearance was possibly meant to be ghost-like. I hadn't thought about the fact that the show exceeded what would have been a reasonable life expectancy for Mr. Feeny, though I'd heard the actor would be making an appearance. I got a little misty when I saw Feeny, sweet oh-I-missed-him tears. When I heard he may have been intended as a ghost, I was disappointed. I was still hoping to see him frequently, crazy as it would be. Eric, Cory's brother, spent an entire episode imagining he was seeing Feeny when Feeny was not, in fact, there. I interpreted Cory seeing Feeny at the end of the episode as like that; he wanted to see it, so he did.

I think Girl Meets World is going to be great. It's already enjoyable, and that was just the pilot. I know Shawn makes some appearances, and I hope he becomes a regular. I'm hoping other characters from Boy make regular appearances as well, so we can see where they are now. I'm so glad to see these characters again; it's like being reunited with old friends. I'm hoping Girl marks a comeback for Disney's positive-parent representations that I grew up with. I hope Girl has a nice long run and that the cast and crew achieve their goal of staying true to who these characters are.

Girl Meets World will air on the Disney channel on Fridays.

What did you think of the pilot? Were you a Boy Meets World fan?