Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Forgive Me If I'm a Little Sleepy

Take eight children.  Place children together in a living room, bedroom, or basement containing a television and DVD player.  Provide fridge stocked with soda and cupboard filled with cookies, tortilla chips, and cheese balls.  Add generous portions of loud and silly.  Remove as much sleep as possible.  Simmer overnight.

There are variations, of course.  Try adding pizza instead of chips.  Let the kids run loose in the backyard before sending them to the basement.  Random appearances by younger siblings add the unexpected, and a flashlight in every hand adds sparkle.

No matter the variation, the childhood sleepover is either the greatest childhood event since Christmas morning or the bane of parental existence.  It just depends on your perspective.  My perspective is the mid-thirties, eight-hours-of-required-sleep, low-tolerance-for-sugar-high-sleep-deprived-tweens variety.

In other words I don’t much like sleepovers.

How do you keep everyone occupied?  A movie?  If attendees can agree to one, there’s ninety minutes covered, and finding consensus may take an additional forty-five, but is the debate worth it?

“That’s a baby movie.  My first grade brother watches that.”

“I’ve seen it already.”

“Is that PG-13? ‘Cause if it’s PG-13, I’m not allowed to watch.”

Maybe thirty minutes of entertainment can be found on one of 500 available TV channels.  There has to be an episode of iCarly everyone hasn’t seen yet.  Then again, allowing the television as an unsupervised activity, especially late-night, creates the possibility of uncomfortable breakfast conversations.

“What’s a bidet?”

“Excuse me?”

“What’s a bidet?”

“Um, we’re eating breakfast here.  Maybe we could … wait.  Why are you asking?”

“We were watching, like, Extreme Bathroom Makeover or something last night and they installed one and, well, what is it?”

Thankfully we didn’t spring for the extra movie channels, and we enabled password protection on shows TV-PG and higher.

And for the record, I’d argue that bidets should not slip through the gaps in TV-PG.

Recently the sleepover debate once again graced the dinner conversation.  I let my wife take the point, and I thought she handled it well.  Her arguments held water, her reasons were logically presented, and none of that mattered.

“When I’m grown up, I’m going to allow my daughter to have a sleepover, and I’m going to invite all the moms over.  That’s the only way I’ll ever get to have MY friends overnight.”

“What a great idea.  We’ll invite the girls’ parents.  It’ll be a family sleepover.”

“Mom!  You wouldn’t!”

“But you just suggested it.”

“No, I didn’t!  What I was saying was … ugghhh!  You just don’t understand!”

Add that to the list of things Mom and Dad simply can’t comprehend.

Furthermore, sleepovers aren’t free, and I don’t mean financially.  Over the next forty-eight hours parents must pay the consequences.  Lack of sleep enhances the pre-teen personality.  Fuses are shorter, mood swings more severe, and the truth more blunt.  “Sleepovers are way cooler at so-and-so’s house.  Her mom …”

Look, my kids have great friends.  They’re wonderful kids, and I love them all.  I really do.  But when they wake me up at 3:00 am …

Oh, all right, I still love them.  But really, three o’clock in the morning?

Thanks for reading my latest -- yaaaawwwn -- newspaper column.  Click here for the original version or here for the printable version.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

For as much as I liked The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I’m unsure if I can say the same about Mockingjay.  Instead of immediately feeling like I’ve read an instant classic, more than anything it leaves me wondering.  I wonder if I liked it.  I wonder if there’s too much violence, hate, revenge, and death.  I wonder if there’s too little love, trust, and forgiveness.

I wonder if I can recommend it.

But wait, I get ahead of myself.

In the first two books, Katniss has survived the Hunger Games and the uprisings in districts around the country that threaten the Capitol of Panem, uprisings touched off partly due to her actions.  To be sure, tensions have been high without Katniss, but now she has become “the Mockingjay,” a symbol of the rebellion that the citizens of Panem can rally around.

The Hunger Games is a book about survival.  Catching Fire is also about survival but with the added undercurrent of political unrest.  Mockingjay is all about that unrest.  Uprisings are occurring in all twelve districts, and war is being fought outright.  The battle for the country between the rebellion, led by survivors in District 13, and the Capitol has begun.  It is ruthless, violent, and matches what readers should expect in the world imagined by author Suzanne Collins.

It’s hard reviewing the third book of a trilogy without revealing key events in the other two, so I won't summarize much at all.  I will say that the action scenes are as intense as ever and vividly described.  Even more than in the other books, Katniss - and readers - emotionally deal with questions of what is right, who to trust, and how to act.

Yes, I do recommend Mockingjay, though not as enthusiastically as the other books in the trilogy.  My concern is that some young readers who successfully read the first two may be surprised by Mockingjay’s tension, death, violence and war.

But that’s so difficult to say!  How could readers (how could I?) not expect a war in Panem to be exactly what Collins describes?  If we accept a world where children are sent off to battle to the death at the command of the Capitol, we must accept - and expect - the way the war plays out.  I’m honestly not sure if I’m more bothered by the events of the novel or that I somehow didn’t expect it.  Not that I imagined everything to end happily ever after, but I admit I was naively ill-prepared for the grave events of the trilogy’s conclusion.

The conclusion no doubt wraps up everything in need of wrapping from the first two novels.  Every reader wonders what happens next when finishing a book, of course, but authors can’t continue a story forever.  Readers need to draw their own optimistic or pessimistic conclusions as they see fit.

In this case I’m going with optimistic.