Book #1: Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg. The Naumann family members already have assigned roles: workaholic mom, friendly rabbi dad, favorite son, unremarkable daughter. However, when Eliza is revealed as a spelling whiz, the stable dynamic gets thrown off balance. At first, Bee Season struck me as yet another novel about upper middle class Jewish kids growing up in the suburbs (I feel like I've read several of these, most recently The Book of Love). But as the story progress, it grows darker and more interesting. The overlying theme seems to be that some people, despite the fact that they are related and live in the same house, can remain complete strangers to each other. Pretty sad, actually.
Book #2: Birds in Fall, by Brad Kessler. A plane crases off the Canadian coast and the family members of the passengers gather together at an inn on a small island, first, to await news, then, to grieve. I really enjoyed this book- the characters and storytelling are equally compelling, and in essence, it is sort of the antithesis of Bee Season: it chronicles how a group of strangers can become something akin to a family. Both the writing style and the premise (people with nothing in common united by circumstance) reminded me of Bel Canto, one of my favorite books. Birds if Fall is an enjoyable, beautifully written book that made me want to visit Nova Scotia and to read more books by Brad Kessler. I recommend it highly.
One movie: Saved!, the 2004 teen comedy that is essentially Mean Girls set in a fundamentalist Christian school. Mandy Moore plays Hilary Faye, who despite her fondness for Jesus, is still the same old vicious high school alpha female. The movie begins when the main character, Mary, learns that her boyfriend is gay. In order to save him from the firey pits of hell, she has sex with him, but her efforts fail. His parents find gay porno mags under his mattress and send him away to a treatment center, and Mary ends up pregnant. Uh-oh. Fed up with Hilary Faye's scene, she quits her singing group (The Christian Jewels) and befriends the school's two outcasts: Hilary Faye's sarcastic, wheelchair-bound brother (Macaulay Culkin does a great job- he's the most believable teenager of the bunch) and the only Jewish girl in school, the rebellious Cassandra (played by Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon's daughter), who is also the only one savy enough to suspect why Mary has started wearing baggy sweatshirts to school. Overall, Saved is formulaic and its message of tolerance is doled out with a heavy hand, but I liked it. The young actors make the most of the material and it was fun to watch familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. Additionally, the notion that if you're a mean person and a hypocrite, you're not really a good Christian, is one that the moral values squad should pay a a little more attention to.