Tag Archives: Foster Care

Book Review: Finding Fish by Antwone Quenton Fisher

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Rating: B+/ I watched the movie based on this story, Antwone Fisher, when I was twelve or thirteen, and even though maybe I was a little young for the film’s heavy themes, the plot stuck with me for years. I had the memoir on my shelf for years and had unsuccessfully tried to get through it once when one day I remembered it and impulsively decided to pick it up. It’s hard to call this an ‘inspirational’ story, because of the severity of abuse the author, Antwone Fisher, suffers as a child. However it’s a book that makes you think about the resilience of the human spirit, and it’s impossible to not a little in awe of Fisher. He’s had a fascinating life, and he seems to have bounced back from his abusive childhood with a great deal of candor and strength. Continue reading Book Review: Finding Fish by Antwone Quenton Fisher

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Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Rating: B+/ There was a lot of excitement in our household for the upcoming release of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. We loved Taika Waititi’s previous effort, What We Do in the Shadows, which has become one of our top movies to rewatch and quote. Eagle Vs. Shark didn’t exactly do it for me, but it’s abundantly obvious that Waititi has loads of talent and a knack for dry, sometimes borderline dark humor and eccentric characters. So it should come as no surprise that Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is no exception. Continue reading Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Short Term 12 (2013)

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A foster care center for at risk teens doesn’t seem like a setting for a movie about hope and redemption, but “Short Term 12,” a vividly realized and, above all, spectacularly real independent gem, finds beauty and human decency in unexpected places. The cast is so adept at slipping into these roles the filmmaker has created that they feel more like real people than characters in a movie, and you find yourself aching for their respective happy endings.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a grounded but damaged supervisor at a foster care facility, who is haunted by memories of her sexually abusive father but tries her best to make the kids’ at the homes stays as comfortable as possible. Compassionate but tough-minded, she is shown the beginning of the film guiding a new employee (Rami Malek) on his first day at the center.

Grace is being courted by Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.,) a happy-go-lucky co-worker who wants to help her move past her trauma. Grace soon recognizes a fellow victim of abuse in Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever,) an out-of-control adolescent dumped on the center by her uncaring dad, but must get past the uncaring bureaucracy to help the girl find her voice and testify against her abuser.

Subplots include Marcus (Keith Stanfield,) an urban teenager clinging to the support system of the foster home, and Sammy (Alex Calloway,) who has a penchant for attempting to run like hell from the facility and forcing its employees to chase him across the grounds. These characters are sensitively acted and realistically presented. “Short Term 12” also features a honest, nonexploitive portrayal of the lasting scars that come with surviving an abusive childhood.

The teens in the film are not sentimental or mawkish- they are often defiant, angry, and even violent, but director Destin Cretton shows genuine compassion for their individual dramas. I have a special preference for Marcus- he’s a well-intentioned young man trying to keep his head above water when the system deems him an adult and decides to throw him out of it’s relative comfort.

“Short Term 12” has almost a documentary feel; not a moment is wasted in this beautifully directed and acted independent film, and even a rather reckless act committed by Grace at the end manages not to be entirely out-of-character. It makes you care about its characters, incorporating fantastic performances from each and every cast member. I recommend it for any and all who are interested in the welfare of children, the resilience of  adults, or the inner workings of the human mind.

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Hellion (2014)

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The lukewarm critical response to “Hellion” is utter bollocks. This is how indie dramas are meant to be done, rough and real and full of heartbreak. I’m not acting as a shyster voucher for “Hellion” because Jesse Freaking Pinkman‘s in it (although he is, and he’s great, guys,) but because it’s a legitimately good movie with fantastic performances all around (including from stand-out child actors Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner, who give two of the best juvenile portrayals I’ve seen in a long time.)

Despite its sensationalistic title (which puts you in mind of a “Rosemary’s Baby”-type chiller about malignant demon-spawn,) “Hellion” just feels very real. It’s an outstanding Southern-fried drama in the same league as “Winter’s Bone,” “Sling Blade,” and “Mud.” BMX-obsessed delinquent Jacob (Wiggins) is a damaged, resentful 13-year-old boy who’s leading his little brother Wes (Garner) into the same trouble that’s he’s perpetually been in since his mom died.

The boy’s exasperated father, Hollis (Paul,) is a well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual hard drinker, who hasn’t handled the death of his wife so well himself. When Wes gets taken by CPS and placed in the home of his aunt (Juliette Lewis,) Hollis realizes he has to clean his act up in order to get his child back, but his oldest is going up a rocky road that there won’t be any easy return from.

All the scenes, especially the ones involving Jacob and his group of Bravado-filled friends (who talk like real pre-teens and don’t look about thirty, as per most movie adolescents) and Jacob and his impressionable, sweet little brother seem very true to life. The Child Protective Services people and the cops are portrayed realistically and effectively (the police, particularly and due in no small part to the ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ hooplah, are often depicted as the Antichrist in less fair-minded films and TV shows.

“Hellion” is very much an improvement upon the eponymous short on which it was based, which I truthfully only watched a few minutes of.) One drastic change made was that in the short the father was a stereotypical “I’ll make a man out of you yet boy- get me the belt!” uber-hick character (coincidently, he is not played by Aaron Paul in that version.) Hollis in the feature film is much less clichéd in that he seems like a gentle person and not a mean drunk despite being an alcoholic.

When he butts heads with Jacob he is just trying to reinforce discipline, not being abusive. And he refrains from physical discipline at many times when I might’ve hauled off and smacked the kid some. However, he is not a very effective parent in the long run. The filmmaker also does a good job portraying Aunt Pam (Lewis) as meddling without making it a black-and-white situation.

“Hellion”‘s script is both tough and compassionate, the way I want to write when I ‘grow up.’ Aaron Paul proves he can do more than being Heisenberg’s sidekick (which he’s good at, admittedly) and it’ll be an f’ing crime if the kid actors don’t get a lot more work in the years to come. Sod the critics on this one, watch this movie!

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This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

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Twelve-year-old foster child Easter Quillby is the hard-knock heroine of Wiley Cash’s second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy.” Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are cast adrift when their irresponsible mother OD’s, and their woes are further exacerbated when their dad Wade impulsively kidnaps them from their North Carolina children’s home. As it turns out, Wade has stolen bookoo bucks from a lowlife, who has sent Bobby Pruitt, a one-eyed bouncer with a vendetta, to kill him. Growing up’s hard when your dad’s on the lam and is dragging you along across the states, but Ruby and Easter survive, if not exactly thrive, under the care of their troubled father.

While fast-paced and compulsively readable, I did not find this book as compelling as the author’s first, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” As a character, Easter stands head and shoulders above the rest, although Ruby and Wade are pleasing leads as well. The book is narrated by three POV characters- Easter, Pruitt, the eager aspiring assassin, and Brady Weller, the girls’ court appointed guardian, who makes it his personal goal to find Wade and the kids before Pruitt does.

This slim volume has brief chapters and an exciting pace, but isn’t quite as well-written as the author’s previous work. Maybe ‘less well-written’ is the wrong phrase to use; there are no cracks in the narrative, but it makes less of an attempt to be literary as “A Land More Kind Than Home” was. Other than Easter, who was delightful, I didn’t think the characters were as compelling as those in the last book. Wade was pleasingly morally ambiguous, and I found myself trusting his intentions more as the novel progressed.

I think the biggest weakness was the portrayal and voice of Pruitt, the villain. Pruitt’s POV was decidedly meat-and-potatoes and matter-of-fact, where some creepiness and intensity may have been in order. It felt like the author, Wiley Cash, was a little scared to get deep into Pruitt’s psyche, so settles for making him a somewhat bland guy who occasionally beats old ladies with baseball bats.

“This Dark Road to Mercy” is compulsively readable, which means that even a painfully slow reader such as myself finished it in only a few days. It’s actually a really good read, my expectations were just so high after reading “A Land More Kind Than Home” that I was bound to feel a little let down by any book by this author that achieved less than greatness.

I was actually expecting things to go down a lot worse than they did it it’s conclusion. The way they wrapped it up was not bad at all, even satisfying, but I expected an adrenaline-soaked bloodbath, or at least a depressing death, at the climax. I wouldn’t say I was ‘let-down’ by the ending, just surprised that things didn’t end in literary Armageddon. If you come out with one thing from reading this book, it will be the portrayals of buoyant, happy-go-lucky Ruby and resourceful, serious Easter and the journey they take with a father who is just trying hard to be a dad.

Note- I could easily give this book 4.5/5 stars, but it would be unfair to the 4 star books I liked just as much. Therefore, four.

Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

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“Call me Zits,” states the disaffected, acne-afflicted anti-hero at the beginning of Sherman Alexie’s fast-paced, compulsively readable novel ‘Flight.’ Zits, an fifteen-year-old Native American orphan, is shipped off to yet another foster home when he gets into a fight with his foster father and physically attacks him. He is sent to Juvie but escapes with a charismatic boy he met in jail, who brainwashes him into committing a violent crime. In the midst of shooting up a bank, ZIts is shot in the head and transported back in time for reasons unknown to him.

Zits enters the bodies of five different characters, from a mute Indian boy fighting for his life during Custer’s Last Stand to a white pilot grappling with his guilt in a modern day setting. Along the way, Zits sees the intrinsic violence and anger that resides within humanity and the futility of revenge and blame-placing. By the end of it, he is changed for the better- but is it too late?

I already knew Sherman Alexie was a talented writer from back when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but what I didn’t expect was to be completely transported by this book. Let me put it this way- usually it takes me weeks to get through a book (I’m a slow reader) and I finished this in two days. “Flight” was funny and made my heart hurt at the same time. You can’t help feeling for this boy, although for all intents and purposes he is not a very sympathetic character (he lies, steals, sets fires, and kills.) He’s never known ‘home’ or ‘family’ or ‘love,’ and most of his foster parents are just in it for the money.

I know it’s a cliche, but he’s built up resistance against an uncaring world. I know nothing about Indian history yet I never felt lost or stupid reading this book, it’s that accessible. The writing is at once conversational and literary; there is no hint of smut or trashiness in the narrative. The events leading up to the shooting are pretty rushed, but that just gets the reader to the fantasy element quicker. It also builds up a sense of confusion and disorientation, Zits doesn’t really know why he wants to commit the crime, all he knows is that he hurts and he wants to make others hurt as he has.

“Flight” is harsh, heartbreaking, strong, unsentimental, and tough. It’s protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, and his fresh, angry voice drives the narrative at breakneck speed. I want to read all of Sherman Alexie’s works now. When I’m reading Alexie, it doesn’t matter than I’m not in the know about poverty or reservation life or Native American woes, because his themes are pretty much universal. I highly recommend this book to all those that like good fiction.

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