“Movies really can make it better.” Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma

Welcome to 2012!!  The blog lives!  Sorry for the absence – I just went through one of those periods when I couldn’t quite get a blog to come out the way I wanted.  I was still reading and tweeting away, but blog just wasn’t happening.  One of the things I love the most about my site is that I never feel pressure to write anything but what I want when I want.  If it’s not right, it’s not right.  I hope there’s still a few people around and reading though!  🙂  I do hope all of you will bear with me through these periods.  And you can follow me on twitter: @misskubelik, where you can always finding me throwing out opinions and reviews.  Anyhow, I’m back and ready to rock 2012 with lots of blogs I’ve had in mind:  reviews of all sorts of stuff I’ve loved, some programming info, basically just things to get me motivated and writing again.

I also have a few announcements!  I want to start by thanking everyone for entering my last two contests and let you know who the randomly selected winners were.  Jasmine, who blogs at A Room With Books, won the copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone generously provided by Little, Brown.  (have you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet??  What are you waiting on?!) and Jennifer won a copy of Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist.  YAY…and thanks to all for commenting and entering.  I like spreading the word about awesome books with people.  Share the good news forward, peeps!

Aaaand … I won something too!  I am super-excited to share that I won the Diversity in YA reading/blogging challenge.  Whooo!  The Diversity in YA challenge was a true challenge for me.  I learned a lot from having the chance to really reflect on what books can do and why they matter.  I was happy just to participate and grateful to Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for hosting the challenge and consistently promoting Diversity in YA.  WINNING the challenge was even more amazing and exciting.  Thanks to all the publishers and authors for donating their books – the ones that my library doesn’t already own will go right on our shelves and the ones we have will find good homes, either with other librarians or my teen patrons.

Now onto the actual blog being alive part!

Movies can do that: make people forget everything that’s bad about their lives, and bad about the world, even make them ignore the fact that they’ve already run out of popcorn. All that matters is what’s on-screen, that world in black-and-white or bright color, the story that’s got its hold on you.  Movies really can make it better.

I read Nova Ren Suma’s middle grade masterpiece Dani Noir a few months ago, but only recently has the true resonance and loveliness of it hit me.  Dani Noir is lots of things.  It’s a story about a teenager dealing with pain and repercussions stemming from the messy breakup of her parents’ marriage.  It’s a story about that awkward summer when a friend has moved away, everything is changing, and you’re not quite sure what your life is going to be like.  It’s a story about a girl growing up and making mistakes and learning that you can survive your own mistakes, even when they are thoughtless and hurtful.  It’s all that.  And all that is lovely and smart and sharp and well-written.  But Dani Noir is something else too.

Dani Noir is a book about how loving art can not just enrich your life but make it easier too.  More than that though: Dani Noir is a book about being a fan, a book about how being a fan can be an important, productive identity in your life.

Now how cool is that?

Dani is a cinephile.  In fact, this is central to the plot of the novel and her character.  Dani loves film, particularly old films, particularly films starring Rita Hayworth, and particularly the genre of film noir.  (see title.)  During her confusing, lonely summer Dani will find comfort and solace in film.  She will see her story in film, though not always in the most positive way, and she will try to use film to make sense of her life.  This is what we cinephiles do, you see, this is what we look to the big screen for.  In this summer of growth and pain, Dani will come to understand that film, that art, can be a tether to what’s good in life and a way to find like-minded friends and conspirators, people who speak your language and want in on the conversation.

I can’t remember the last time I read a YA/MG novel that was so sharply accurate about the power of that connection.  Maybe, frankly, never.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: for an overwrought scene where someone shouts at Dani that “LIFE ISN’T LIKE THE MOVIES, WAKE UP ALREADY!” In this scene, the character would completely misunderstand what it means to take refuge in art, what it means to let movies take you into another world.  Dani would eventually come to see how wrong she was about everything, how real life is so much more satisfying than anything you could ever see on some old screen!  And yet that scene never came.  No, not at all.

In fact, the opposite happened.  Dani came to understand that her mistakes, her thoughtlessness and single-minded fixations, were her own.   Dani learned that life was not a film noir movie that she could act as director of regardless of anyone else’s feelings.  And yet she retained her love for film, her ability to see her life in it, her true kinship and connection with the medium. And that’s part of what makes Suma’s characterization of Dani so rich and true: here is a character who changes and grows, makes mistakes and pushes people away, yet retains her passions and interests, is the same character we met at the beginning but a more realized, more mature character at the end.

Even if I didn’t already love everything else about Dani Noir, from the unflinchingly honest way it looks at the emotional impact of divorce and remarriage to the feather-light but still consequential mystery at the core of Dani’s puzzle-solving, I would love this book for one simple reason.  Dani doesn’t have to “give up” film, because film is part of who Dani is.  In fact, Dani gets to share film with the people her world has now expanded to include.  She gets to try new films, new actresses, maybe even new genres.  This love opens her life up, helps her share her fandom and start conversations.  That is what it means to be a fan, the very best, most true parts of it.  Dani Noir and Nova Ren Suma get that and that makes this book truly unique and truly special.

Dani Noir is highly recommended for all middle-grade audiences, it’s particularly suited for middle grade readers who are looking for something truly different and worth their time. The novel takes place over the summer before Dani’s eighth grade year, but there’s definitely lots of early teen appeal here – ages 11-15 are the sweet spot for this book, especially if you know any curious, bright, passionate kids who are fans and fans-in-the-making.  You should buy a copy or go check it out from your local library today.  If your library doesn’t have a copy, request they add it.

Dani is so right: in those moments when you feel alone, on those days when you just need to escape, movies really can make it better.  And so can books as good as Dani Noir.

(Dani Noir will be re-released as Fade Out in June, 2012.  Personally, I’m not exactly crazy about the new title or cover but if it gets more people reading the book – hooray!)

2 thoughts on ““Movies really can make it better.” Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma

  1. THANK YOU!!!! for loving Dani Noir like it should be loved! It was completely overlooked when it came out, but I’m aiming to fight for it on the YHBA list (either this year or possibly next year since it’s being rereleased). Even though I read it the year it came out, it’s a story that has really stuck with me. More people need to know about it!

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