Reviews

REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

When the government develops a “cure” for mutations that will turn mutants human permanently, Magneto (Ian McKellen) rages war and the X-Men must choose what side they’re on. Meanwhile Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) returns and is more powerful than ever, calling herself the Phoenix and turns on her friends, aligning herself with Magneto.

X-Men: The Last Stand is one of the X-Men films that I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen it in its entirety since the cinema, 15 years ago. I remember being a bit disappointed by it but not necessarily why and a lot of my thoughts and opinions on it before this rewatch were probably thanks to the general internet consensus over the years.

The Last Stand definitely isn’t as good as the first two X-Men films, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as I’d been led to believe. The main problem with it is that it tries to cram two storylines together in a film that’s less than two hours long.

The “cure” plot is good though because of the other stuff there isn’t as much time to give the emotional and ethical dilemma some characters face, namely Rogue (Anna Paquin), space to fully develop. Sure, mutants were born with these powers but for some if they change how they look or make them unable to be close to anyone, they can be a curse. But does that mean they should change who they are? The conversation between Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue touches on these things but there’s so much more that could’ve been explored. Storm thinks every mutant is perfect the way they are, and that’s perhaps easy for someone like her who can control the weather but is otherwise completely normal. For Rogue who can’t touch someone without harming them, it’s very different.

The Jean Grey/Phoenix Saga story line is what feels shoehorned in. If The Last Stand had just focussed on the cure storyline, or even the Phoenix Saga one, it would’ve had the potential to be a much better film. Jean returns suddenly evil and far more powerful than any other mutant. She has a completely different personality and it’s hard to care about what she’s going through. Every time the plot moves forward with the cure stuff it then has to pause to go back to Jean, and often Logan (Hugh Jackman’s) love for her, and it grinds the film to a halt.

The opening sequence in the Danger Room is great as you see the X-Men in a battle situation, most of which you haven’t seen use their powers to their full capabilities before so that’s cool. Likewise, the final battle is exciting as there’s so many different powers on display and each of the X-Men do get their moment to shine there.

Rewatching The Last Stand I remembered what disappointed me most. After all the promo of Angel (Ben Foster) being in one of the X-Men suits I thought he’d become a proper part of the team, so I was disappointed when he was pretty much a cameo. Generally, that’s another problem The Last Stand has, it introduces a lot of new characters, as well as already having quite a full roster, that a lot are given minimal screen time and little to know character development – I couldn’t name half the new characters that joined Magneto. Scott Summers (James Marsden) really is given the short end of the stick in this film. He’s given nothing to do, is used to bring Jean back to the story, and barely anyone misses him when he’s not there.

X-Men: The Last Stand is a bit of a mess. There’s some good stuff to be found but with an over abundance of characters and conflicting plots that each deserve a whole film it’s a bit of a let down as an end to a trilogy. Still, the final battle is pretty great (even if it goes from day to night in a second) so it does leave you on a high and maybe in a more forgiving mood. 3/5.

REVIEW: X2 (2003)

When the rise of anti-mutant sentiment led by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) leads to Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) school being attacked and students taken, the X-Men must join with their adversaries Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) in order to stop Stryker.

X2 starts with a bang with the opening sequence still being talked about almost twenty years later. Nightcrawler’s (Alan Cumming) attack on the White House is thrilling and eerie and the special effects for his teleportation makes you believe that someone really could disappear, and reappear, in a puff of blue smoke. The make up Alan Cumming wears is also incredible and that along with his performance brings this socially awkward mutant to life.

The other standout sequence in X2 is the attack on Xavier’s school. Whoever thought having an home invasion sequence where it’s just Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) against a load of military men was a genius. It’s tense and exciting as Wolverine goes full feral mode to protect the children under his care. There are also glimpses of different students’ powers like Shadowcat and while Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) isn’t in it much, how he takes down the invaders while saving his fellow students is great.

While the action is great in that sequence, the way it suddenly pauses as Wolverine and Stryker come face to face and allow them to talk is good too. Stryker may hold the key to Wolverine’s lost memories and Jackman continues to walk the line between feral, confused and caring with that character perfectly.

One of the many things X2 does well is show how pretty much all the characters, including the heroes, are morally grey. Storm (Halle Berry) is not all forgiving and is instead angry at what humans do to mutants, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is tired of hiding who he is, and it’s easy to see where Magneto is coming from.

As well as the various fight and action sequences, X2 also amps up the emotional stakes. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Scott’s (James Marsden) relationship is given more screen time, and the budding romance between Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) is handled well as they navigate how to be in a relationship. While it’s a quieter moment, Bobby talking to his parents and showing off his powers is an important one not only to the character but to show the wider issues facing Bobby and his fellow mutants.

X2 is a well-paced, fun and action-packed superhero film. It introduces some interesting new characters while also giving the ones we already know space to develop. The special effects still hold up and it really is a fantastic superhero film that shows the duality of so many of these characters. Also must give a shout out to composer John Ottman, the X2 Suite is one of my favourite superhero themes. 5/5.

We shall see how this X-Men rewatch goes but I’m pretty confident that X2 is my favourite film in this franchise – it’s definitely one of my favourite superhero films in general.

REVIEW: Moxie (2021)

Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy Vivian (Hadley Robinson) finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution.

I read and reviewed Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu way back in 2017 and I equally had high hopes for the film and was apprehensive as I liked the book so much. I’m very pleased to say that I enjoyed the film and I think it’s generally one of the best book to movie adaptations I’ve seen in a long time.

Moxie is a coming age story that focuses on girls finding their voices and learning to stand up for themselves, rather than being all about a formative love interest. While Vivian is the one to almost unwittingly start this feminist revolution in her school, she is far from the only girl who has something to say. With the arrival of the zine Vivian finds herself with a whole new group of friends, all girls who are tired of the status quo and they each bring ideas of what they could do next to make their voices heard.

Vivian is a great character. She’s the kind of girl who’d always been quiet and just kept her head down but once she started paying attention, she quickly gets frustrated by how girls are treated at her school. Vivian is inspired by Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) who’s not afraid to stand up for herself when popular jock Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) will not stop harassing her and by the double standards when Kaitlynn (Sabrina Haskett) is told her wearing a tank top is against the school dress code, but the boy sat next to her wearing practically the same thing isn’t. Vivian is fallible, she makes mistakes as her rage at what’s going on often targets the wrong people and she’s learning about what being a feminist means and inclusivity as she goes. Vivian’s shocked when her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) points out the privilege she has compared to her as the child of immigrants who have sacrificed a lot for her. Slowly Vivian learns while there are universal challenges facing women, there are ones she’d have no knowledge or experience of due to her upbringing.

Moxie is very aware of what’s been happening in the real world. You hear snippets of new stories about the #MeToo movement in the background and the English teacher (Ike Barinholtz) finds it difficult to say or do the right thing as a man and an authority figure when the girls start standing up for themselves and asking “difficult” questions. While that scene is used for comedic effect, it shows how awkward and difficult some find talking about these things because they have, unfortunately, been the norm for so long.

Moxie is a film with so much heart. It might stumble a bit in the third act, but then again so does Vivian, and it’s perhaps not as revolutionary for an older audience but for young people it’s a film that can prompt discussions and encourage them to fight for what they believe in. Also, so much of this film is about girls supporting girls and the different relationships between friends, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see this quite diverse group of friends supporting each other. Moxie is fun, funny and inspiring and to top it off it has a killer soundtrack. 5/5.

REVIEW: X-Men (2000)

Due to a certain character’s appearance in a certain Disney+ show, I got the urge to rewatch (and then review) all of the X-Men films. A lot of the more recent ones with the younger versions of the characters I’ve only ever seen once in the cinema and I can’t even remember the last time I watched the original trilogy in their entirety.

In the near future some people have evolved into mutants, people with special abilities, and live with the threat of discrimination from the rest of humanity. The supremacist group the Brotherhood led by Magneto (Ian McKellen) believe that humans and mutants cannot live in peace and while the X-Men led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) believe that can be achieved. Mutants Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) get caught up in the fight between the two groups.

Even though I know that X-Men as a comic series was an allegory for the oppression of minorities and Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto) has always been Jewish and motivated by his experiences in the Holocaust, I’d forgotten that X-Men began with a young Erik having to watch his parents be led to the gas chamber as his powers manifested. It’s quite a bold and hard-hitting sequence to have to start a summer superhero flick.

The scenes where Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are talking are a real highlight. From their first scene together and their performances you can tell these characters have a long history and were even close once. Though really they’re never just talking. Erik and Charles are both smart men and so it’s like they’re verbally sparring as they both have respect for one another while having opposing set of ideals.

Logan (aka Wolverine) and Rogue’s relationship is really the heart of this film. It’s an easy dynamic to like as Rogue can’t be physically close to anyone without hurting them and Logan has built up a lot of emotional barriers. Hugh Jackman really does a good job of portraying Logan’s gruff attitude and often brutal, impulsive side, while also showing a softer, caring side around Rogue – and to a lesser extent Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). She and Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclops (James Marsden) round out the main trio of heroes. They all do well in their roles even if some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.

Some of the special effects in X-Men has become dated but the casting of these characters was pretty spot on and it’s easy to see why some of them became staples in the X-Men franchise. Though equally it’s unfortunate how some seem to have got the short end of the stick over subsequent films.

While Blade was the superhero film that made superheroes a viable financial option for film studios, X-Men really is the blueprint for a lot of the subsequent superhero films. It has a pretty simple but compelling plot, does a good job at introducing this huge cast of characters and it balances the action and emotional beats well too. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Grenada: The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins

The Ladies are Upstairs is a collection of short stories. The first is about Rain Darling and the following ten follow Doux Thibaut who from the 1930s to the new century negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The first story, “Rain Darling”, is about fifty pages long and sees three women travelling to a hospital to see another, that being Rain. It then goes back and forth between Rain’s present in the hospital and her past from childhood to teen years to adulthood and how one secret shatters her whole world. Rain’s life is a sad one, stuck with an aunt who doesn’t care or nurture her, forcing her to leave school at a young age even though Rain is bright, not being able to be with her mother, sister or her beloved father. It’s really quite depressing.

What makes Rain’s story even sadder is how it’s juxtaposed with Doux’s. They both live lives that have ups and downs but how they, and their families, respond to those hazards of life is vastly different.

Doux is headstrong even as a child and will stand up for herself. She’s also smart and capable but she has teachers and family who support and encourage her. Looking at Rain and Doux it’s easy to see how vastly different a child’s life can be if they have people who care about them. There still may be issues like money, and Doux’s mother can be strict, but the fact that Doux gets to have an education and then goes to have a family of her own shows how life can be a little easier when you’ve got a firm foundation from childhood.

The ten short stories about Doux follow her as she grows up. In most she’s the main character and the story is from her point of view but in some it’s about the people around her including her children and even her midwife. There are also some stories that get a bit creepy which I wasn’t expecting. They’re like short horror stories as a woman finds an abandoned child on the street at night who is not what they seem or a woman who disappears from a car. It’s those kinds of supernatural tales that are passed on as something a friend’s uncle saw once and they’re quite disconcerting after the more standard family drama type stories.

Both Rain and Doux live in Paz, a stand in for Grenada, and the way the landscape and towns are described paint a vivid picture in your head. The fact that characters speak patois and other colloquial languages make them seem more real. Also, how language and speech patterns change over time, especially in Doux’s stories that span sixty or more years, helps show how people and society changes.

The Ladies are Upstairs is an interesting short story collection and consuming Rain and Doux’s stories back-to-back make each of them more layered and interesting.

READ THE WORLD – Cyprus: Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian

A collection of twenty-five short stories that are narratives about women on journeys of self-discovery.

First of all I want to give a shout out to the publisher, Roman Books. I love a pretty cover as much as the next person, but the actual packaging of the book was something I don’t think I’ve had before. It’s a cover that feels really nice to hold, it’s all buttery and smooth and I just really liked that and don’t think I’d ever really noticed the texture of a book before.

Anyway. Onto the contents of the book!

Twenty-five stories in a 88 page book means some are super short. I think the longest was seven pages, a few were only a page in length and the rest were somewhere in between. A lot of them certainly packed a punch while being so short. The writing in a lot of them have a dreamlike quality to it. It would lead you in one direction and in the final sentence or paragraph would reveal something that would make you look at the whole story differently. It’s really quite impressive as that was often all done in less than three pages.

The stories are all about or from the points of view of women. Some are written in first person, others in third, and they are all about love, loss, and relationships. Whether it’s romantic relationships or familial ones, it shows the different aspects of women’s relationships and how they can change depending on age. “Origami” is about a ten-year-old girl learning that her father left her and her mother before she was born and how that reshapes her entire outlook on both her parents while “Lemon, Stars” is about two sisters.

A lot of the stories have a melancholy tinge to them, and some are downright sad. “Mrs Gaslight” is, as you might be able to guess from the title, about a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship, and how even if her sister sees the problems, she refuses to. It’s the second story in the collection and I think having it so soon into the book makes it even more impactful.

Selfie and Other Stories is a well-written and interesting short story collection. It’s been a long time since I’ve read short stories that are this short and I’m always impressed how the author can create an atmosphere in so few words.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Three martial artists, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament – the outcome of which will decide the fate of the world.

I’ll preface this by say to the best of my knowledge I’ve never played any of the Mortal Kombat games (I think I might’ve played Street Fighter though) and I know nothing about the franchise. Much like how the release of a new Dune movie trailer made me want to watch the original from the 80s, the trailer for the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was released last week and as the action sequences looked pretty cool, it made me want to check out the first Mortal Kombat film from the 90s.

Maybe the original Mortal Kombat film works for fans of the games, but as someone with no experience with, I found the film to be incredibly monotonous and boring. The story is paper thin, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is an evil sorcerer who needs to win one more Mortal Kombat tournament in order to take over the Earth, there’s then a string of fights as the three heroes make their way through the tournament to the final showdown with Shang Tsung. It really is just one fight after another and there’s little to differentiate between them.

The fight where the trio of heroes are working together is half-decent as you’re seeing their different fighting styles plus there’s more adversaries so that makes things a bit more exciting. When it’s a one-on-one fight it’s not that entertaining. Perhaps that’s due to the fact I’ve now seen more modern action/fight sequences with the quick editing that makes things more engaging but with the slow mo shots trying to make things dramatic and the techno music that often plays during a fight (a call back to the game I’m sure) it all seems rather cheesy.

The characters themselves are all pretty one dimensional too. Sonya is the badass special forces officer (until she’s easily kidnapped and held hostage – obviously), Johnny Cage is a Hollywood actor with a big ego, while admittedly Liu Kang has a bit more backstory than the others, he’s quest for revenge is his main motivator. Their opponents are just people to fight on their quest to reach the final battle and you feel nothing as they are beaten or killed.

Everything about Mortal Kombat is very 90s and of its time. The set designs, the lighting and especially the special effects which have not aged well and were probably not that great for the standard of the 90s either.

I found Mortal Kombat more bemusing than anything. It’s cheese to the max but not in a fun way if you have no emotional connection to these characters of the games. It’s a repetitive film that may have some cool fight scenes but then they’re often undercut by the music which just makes the whole thing laughable. 1/5.

I’d be super interested to hear what fans of the game think of this, or even people like me who haven’t played it before. I’m not sure if it’s one of those adaptations that can please everyone.

READ THE WORLD – Guyana: In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy

After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

In Praise of Love and Children is a story about love. Not romantic love, though some secondary characters are in relationships, but familial love. The love Melda does (or doesn’t) feel from certain members of her family are a big part of this story, likewise how she has a huge capacity to love the many children she fosters. Some might be only for a few weeks while others find a home with her for years.

I’m not sure how to write about this without coming across ignorant and/or racist but I’ll give it a go. When Melda moves to London and stays with her older brother Arnie she meets his girlfriend Trudi (who later becomes his wife and mother of his child), a white woman who had escaped to Switzerland after her family was killed in Germany when she was a teenager. Melda has an instant dislike for Trudi and it’s clear it’s because Trudi is a white woman and Melda feels she is turning Arnie into something he is not and distancing him from their family. I found those passages hard to read as Melda has a visceral hatred for Trudi. It took me (a white woman) by surprise and it did make me a little uncomfortable. After thinking about it though, I think it made me uncomfortable more because it surprised me. I hadn’t really seen this hatred in a book like this before. I think it’s because in media – films, books and TV – that’s set in the past, so often the Black characters are shown to be the better people in the face of racism, they turn the other cheek or do their best to ignore it and not interact. In In Praise of Love and Children Melda isn’t passive, she knows her own mind and is unafraid to show hostility towards Trudi, even when at times it seems like Trudi is generally trying to be friendly towards her future sister-in-law.

It’s interesting because the conflict between Melda and Trudi becomes this underlying element throughout the whole book. While it is tied to Melda’s view on white people, it’s also tied to how she sees and feels about her family. Family is very important to her and while she believes that the children must always defer to the parents and they are their family first, with Arnie he starts to see Trudi as his priority rather than his parents and siblings that are either in London or New York.

I’ve read books, and seen a lot of film/TV, set in post-segregation America but I haven’t really experienced as much media about Black Britons post-WWII. Starting out set in the 1950s and spanning nearly two decades, In Praise of Love and Children is a small snapshot into life in Britain for the children of what we now call the Windrush generation. People from former British Empire and Commonwealth countries, especially those in the Caribbean, were encouraged to come to the UK to live and work and make a home here. There’s the little racist comments Melda hears about the few Black children in her class from the white headteacher or other staff, and there’s the mention of the culture shock parents have in bringing up their children without the support of a wider community that they had in their villages back home. There’s a line I really liked, and it can (unfortunately) be applied to people looking for a better life for themselves and their family today: “Immigrant workers went from having a firm identity – of family, village, island or religion – to having only a nominal one: foreigner.”

I ended up really enjoying In Praise of Love and Children. I thought Melda’s capacity for love after growing up being abused by her mother was admirable. There’s flashbacks to her childhood and the care and support she got from the women of the yards near her childhood home, was enough to help her when her mother’s love wasn’t there. She is a principled character and may verge on cutting of her nose to spite her face territory, but she is also caring and just. For a pretty short book (it’s under 150 pages) In Praise of Love and Children manages to pack an emotional punch as Melda tries to discover who she is and make a success of her dream to foster and care for such troubled children. 4/5.

REVIEW: Greenland (2020)

After it’s revealed that the comet that was supposed to pass by close to Earth’s atmosphere but not enter it, is in fact perhaps an extinction level threat, John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his wife Alison (Morena Baccarin), and their seven-year-old son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) embark on a perilous journey in search for shelter.

I love a good disaster film. In fact, I tend to love the not so good ones too. There’s something about the spectacle of them and imagining yourself in that situation and what you might do differently to the characters on screen. Greenland is one of the good disaster films. Perhaps I didn’t go into it with the highest expectations after Gerard Butler’s previous end-of-the-world-movie Geostorm which is bona fide fun nonsense, but Greenland really surprised me in how well it balanced the action and the characters.

There is spectacle in Greenland with John being sent flying by a shockwave or he and his family trying to avoid raining burning debris, and the effects are good, but the focus is on these three characters and what they’d do to survive and stay together. There’s news footage shown on TV of the carnage this comet is causing and bleak updates on the radio to give you and the characters a wider understanding of what’s going on in the world during this crisis, but having this family being the core of the film makes the threat more affecting.

There’s the big, standard disaster film stuff they have to deal with but there’s a lot of smaller, more personal stuff that’s even more tense and scary. Getting separated from one another, losing vital medication, it all helps round out each of the characters and get you invested in their fight for survival. The trip to a pharmacy in order to get medicine for Nathan is one of the most tenses sequences as you really start to see the collapse of society when people realise they have nothing to lose and only days to live.

Greenland really finds that balance for showing the good and evil in humanity. There are people who will stop to help someone just as they are committing a crime, there’s those who will do horrible things for selfish reasons, but there’s also people who are still kind and thoughtful in the face of such awfulness. People are complicated, and in an end of the world scenario when people are desperate, who knows how they could act.

There are a few clichés like how John and Alison are estranged at the start of the film and are attempting to give their marriage a second chance, so the fight for survival helps bring them closer again. The performances from Butler, Baccarin and Floyd make this family feel real – there’s one moment where Alison becomes desperate and emotional and Baccarin’s performance just encapsulates what a mother being pushed to the edge would be like.

Greenland is a really tense and gripping disaster movie that puts one family at the centre of it. If you’ve watched Greenland, or like the sound of it, I’d definitely recommend The Wave and its sequel The Quake – two Norwegian disaster films that focus in on a few characters and their relationships as they fight for survival. 4/5.

REVIEW: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition. With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. But not everyone survives the deadly maze.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy YA, especially a standalone fantasy YA, so while I did end up enjoying To Best the Boys, it did take me a little while to get into the story. I think it was just all the standard elements of the genre; being dropped into a world with the world-building happens as it goes, the casual mention of various creatures and the social/political landscape, that I hadn’t really had in a while after reading more contemporary or historical fiction set in our world.

Once Rhen and Seleni join the competition and enter the labyrinth, the story just speeds by. The sort of trials in the maze they have to go through, and how they have to work with some boys their friends with and like, and some that they really don’t is interesting, especially as all the while they’re trying to keep their identities secret.

The society of Caldon is made up of the Uppers and the Lowers – the upper and working class basically. Rhen was born a Lower after her mother was disowned for marrying her scientist father, though she has connections to the Uppers as Seleni and her Aunt and Uncle are Uppers and continue to invite Rhen to their extravagant parties in the hope to pair her off with a rich young man. It’s clear that Rhen feels more comfortable with her Lower friends in the port or doing scientific experiments with her dad than at these parties.

Caldon is also a patriarchal society and the way Rhen struggles to make her voice heard, where a lot of older men are in power and don’t listen to anyone who is not like them, is unfortunately similar to our own world. Rhen’s passion is for science and learning and wants to make something of herself and while that’s the main driving force of the story, To Best the Boys takes a moment to acknowledge that Seleni’s dreams of finding love and being a wife and mother are just as valid. It’s having the ability to make that choice is what is important to Rhen. Seleni and Rhen’s friendship was one of my favourite things about To Best the Boys. They are so close and Seleni is almost the best of both worlds as she loves the balls and dresses and dancing with boys, but she also enjoys being involved with Rhen’s experiments and adventures. Seleni can almost fit in anywhere whereas Rhen can’t be something she’s not.

As well as the feminist angle, To Best the Boys has some disability representation. Though they aren’t given the names we use, Rhen is dyslexic and there’s another character, Rhen’s love interests younger brother, who has autistic traits.

As it’s a standalone, To Best the Boys did feel a little rushed at times, but equally the story is so tight and focused in on the event to win the scholarship that a lot of character backstories or more world-building isn’t really needed. 3/5.