Pretty Little Liars, aka, Strong Women Leaders (Part 3)

For those of you who missed it, you can get the first articles of this blog series by visiting:

Pretty Little – Young Adult – Liars (pt 1)

Pretty Little Liars – Decisions that Make a Story (pt 2)




These are the girls that drive Pretty Little Liars.

It is a rare series where the cast is dominated by women and not only that, but women who make decisions. Together they provide a great platform for young girls to admire. Allison, Emily, Aria, Spencer, Hannah and Mona come from different social circles, with different interests and, besides the fact that each of them are being tormented by A, they are dealing with real life situations that are also being experienced by their viewers. Divorced parents, Dad in the military, coming out as LBGT, mental health issues, being interested in hobbies that might be seen as less popular, being bullied, trying to stay on top of studies, family pressures, boys (just…. boys) and the difficulties in discovering your place in the world – or at least your place in high school. This is the short list of what they go through and you can already begin to see why these women could be assets to female viewers. Nearly everything they face is relatable and the way they handle these issues is admirable. They are not afraid to make mistakes, they learn to stand up for themselves and their friends and they are not afraid to cry when things get hard.

PrettyLittleLiarsAfter catching up with the whole series, it becomes clear to me that PLL should NOT be considered a silly, guilty pleasure for girls to watch in secret with their best gal-pals (though there is nothing wrong with that).

Now, I understand that what I am about to say has the potential to cause heated debates and quick judgements on my personal character. I do understand that the mature content (aka: sex) might not be suitable for young girls, that no one should be encouraged to keep secrets from their parents or siblings EVER (especially if it deals with alcohol, drugs  and/or bullies) and that perhaps high school girls might idolize the more conceited aspects of this show more than the message of the girl’s decisions, HOWEVER… and here’s the big ‘argument-starting’ statement:

There is a lot of real, genuine value / life-lessons that all young women could gain from watching Pretty Little Liars.

These girls stay beside their friends to help them in their weakest moments. Both Spencer and Hannah get mixed into battles with substance abuse, and rather than turn their attentions away, their friends support them in the struggle to sober up. While Spencer and Hannah know they are in trouble during these unrelated occasions, they deny how dangerous the situations really are, but their friends do not shrug off the problem and, in reality, end up saving their lives. The message here is simple, and if you see someone in trouble, make sure to get them the support they need if your help isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if you will be unpopular for a moment when it comes to saving a friend’s life.


We also watch them go through the steps of first love. When Emily comes out to her mom she is met with heartbreak at her mom’s bold disapproval. The girls support Emily in her decision to be honest and encourage her to be herself, and love who she loves. To them, it is that simple. Emily is able to take strength from their honest support, knowing that she has them to rely on even if her mom is un-supportive. She takes that to heart and chooses to always be completely true to herself, no matter how challenging the battle may become. In this bravery, she finds herself a partner where they equally empower and challenge each other to be better, to be more honest and to never lose their edge.

Hannah goes from being a quiet shy girl to finding her confidence with the support to grow alongside her friends. While she is a gorgeous girl, it is evident that the boys she dates are more in love with her feisty personality than her unhelpful talent to create the perfect outfit. Her boyfriend, Caleb, supports Hannah in her direct approach to problem solving and independent nature that allows her to learn from her own mistakes. It is his love for who she is as a woman that allows them to become one of the most healthy relationships represented on TV (… if not a bit too mature for their teenage-years). The point really is, that they support each other, trust each other and are able to live independent lives as a couple that understand the value of communication. Caleb takes the time to discover who Hannah is as a woman, and knows when Hannah will want his help and when she needs her space. He appreciates her value as an important person in his life. Hannah, is able to approach Caleb without fear when she senses there’s something bothering him, or when she knows that something in their relationship needs to be discussed. She, in her honesty, has built a relationship in which to have faith.

hannah-caleb-4Beyond the exciting romances, I even have a positive opinion on one of the main vanities in the series, aka – fashion: There is a sub-plot to the series where Hannah realizes that perhaps her outfits might have more power over her personality than they should, and she steps away into a series of new and unique styles. It values importance of self-discovery as a growing individual, and that the clothing ‘brand’ becomes a thing of minimal value when it comes to a person’s true substance. Beyond Hannah, we see each of these ladies dressed down to their sweats / messy buns (see Aria and Spencer below), and still show confidence as if they are still wearing their signature trendy, teenage fashions. Hardly ever do you hear their partners speak just of their beauty, rather they are much more entranced by their zest, and are not afraid to admit that the girl’s personalities are where their attraction truly lies!

Aria-Spencer-pretty-little-liars-girls-18173430-400-600In all honesty, I could continue in length on why I think young girls should be encouraged to watch Pretty Little Liars, with the understanding that is is fiction so it must be taken with a grain of salt. If I reflect on my personal high school years, I can see how a show like this would have benefited me in many ways. Not only would I have understood the butterflies in my tummy when I saw a crush (act cool and breathe), but the confidence that could have been gained by simply associating with their age-appropriate fashions, and the open minded behavior of all the lead characters. It would have been an early lesson that not everyone will like you and finding friends who accept your faults is something to be truly valued.

While I would never trade the life lessons I gained from Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass, having a story to follow such PLL, where the sub-plots are more relatable to a 15 year old girl would have been a great addition to my ‘most-loved’ collection. Let me tell you first hand that it’s not easy to emulate Arwen, the elven princess, during puberty, or Hermione when you’re not a brilliant student.

However, to understand Hannah’s self-conscious behavior as a need to be liked, beside Aria’s ability to get lost in a book? Now, that would have been something I could have related too! To follow these characters though the series as they find their confidence and become independent women is an incredible value to a young girl – that is what I am so keen for you readers to see and rejoice for.

And it’s equally fun to watch!hannah-killed-dead-pretty-little-liars-spoiler

I do understand that perhaps this article will cause you judge me, or see me in a new way, but I think that is one of the main points to this piece. I really like watching Pretty Little Liars and I enjoy following it every week. I am unafraid to admit that I see exceptional benefits to this story from the sub-plots to the character development. It might not be the Shakespeare of of today, but that should not negate that values do exist here. Argue against me, make your notes on why you think this is a silly show for girls, but you might just help me prove my point. Think twice before you announce your judgments of PLL to ensure that all sexists remarks are removed, and then let me see how strongly you can argue against me. I truly believe that if this show can give young girls an early message of empowerment and a true message that friendship should be valued like the rare treasure it really is, then why not encourage them to enjoy watching this series?

So, tell me readers, what do you think of Pretty Little Liars?

(And yes, Hannah is my favorite character).

Pretty Little Liars – Decisions that Make a Story (Part 2)

For those of you who missed it, you can get the first article of this blog series by visiting:

Pretty Little – Young Adult – Liars (pt 1)

Alright – Let’s get back on topic, Pretty Little Liars is the bomb: it includes a ridiculous amount of cliches and manages to have an exciting/moveable murder mystery plot-line and Netflix is again the QUEEN for allowing me to watch seasons 1-4 in a single month. The most important part of PLL are the strong female characters, no one can deny they are driving force in the series (as well as, the strong and ambitious actresses who play them).

And now, here is your only warning, this article will be full of spoilers!


To reiterate; (seasons 1-4) we are watching these girls grow up from their awkward teen years into very strong girls who have a lot to deal with for their youth. Their best friend vanishes, is found dead, and they are constantly questioned by police as they are the last to see her alive during a very sweet and G-rated sleepover. They are always in the public eye and have remained there for far too long. Inappropriate advances begin from those who are supposed to protect them, they attract hate from peers who are jealous of their friendship with each other and of their popularity in school. With the girl’s kindness they are easily blackmailed into horrible tasks in order to keep destructive secrets under lock and key – they hope. They make every intelligent effort to not let those unknowingly targeted by these secrets down as they accept the challenges from A, which causes them to nearly lose other friends and boyfriends in the process.

Nothing in this series is easy and that is only one reason why you cannot stop watching once you start – oh, Netflix.

Just to give you a taste: Hannah must protect her mom after she takes an illegal loan from the bank. Hannah discovers hundreds of dollars in a pop tart box and soon after the threats begin as shares her intention to out Hannah’s mom. At one point A wants Hannah to out the fact that Aria is dating their high school teacher. Of course, when Aria met Ezra in a bar it seemed that neither were aware (cough-hint-cough) of what would happen on the first day of school as Erza became Mr. Fitz, english teacher. Meanwhile, the other girls are facing even more challenges – Emily has come out to everyone but her conservative mother and will do almost anything to keep that secret, and her new girlfriend, under the covers (yup, I said that). Spencer weaves herself into a mess trying to solve who A could be, hitting targets from old friends to immediate family members. With the pressures from trying to sort it out she begins to accuse her sister’s new husband/baby-daddy of killing Alison, as he seems to have a taste for younger girls.

All the plots and subplots in this series are interconnected like a beautiful and spooky spiderweb, which provide A with enough juice to last into its sixth season. Six seasons where the cops are untrustworthy, and there are so many different angles for approaching the main mystery – who killed Allison – that it would be nearly impossible to try and list them out. But what happens (season 5), when the question is answered and Allison returns back into the girls lives: alive and well?

So, who killed Allison?

Apparently… no one.

Up until that point, A’s relationship with the girls is relatively gentle. Whoever A is/was caused way too many problems, and almost leads many in the town of Rosewood to be arrested for their dirty little secrets. However – to play devil’s advocate – these naughtier characters in the series probably should have been making better decisions and not taking illegal loans, having affairs, dating their students and all the other shame-able things that seem to happen in wealthy/fictional towns. Also, many of these situations could have been resolved by moments of pure honesty, or going to their parents for help. Slowly, the death count seems to grow, which is more than the girl’s expected, but there is a definite change in A’s attitude when whispers that Allison is still alive begin.

More murder, nearly getting thrown off trains on Halloween, houses exploding and the critical moment when another of the pretty little liar’s must kill or be killed. Aria and Ezra think they have discovered who is and when she runs off to tell her friends she finds them – all of the girls – face to face with this alleged killer/psychopath and at the end of a handgun. After a struggle, this particular A, in a long line of A-suspects, dies. However, as they discovered many times before, the texts eventually continue.

After a few months of silence and finally accepting the fact that they might be free, all hell breaks loose – ‘A’gain.

… bad joke?

is full of a new vengeance.

There’s so much packed into Pretty Little Liars that it’s hard to deny how fun this series is to watch. It might be subjected to judgement for reasons like being on ABC Family or having main characters of a troop of high school girls in heels, but these comments seem to be coming from those who have never actually watched the show. These girls should be idolized by their decision making skills and the fact that when it comes down to it, they are human and make mistakes. While many TV shows that feature high schoolers, the actors could easily be in their thirties by how they dress / act, there is a strength in the creators that dress the girls from PLL accordingly to their ages in the series – well, maybe minus the heels. It is acceptable that these girls have higher maturity levels than average with what they have gone through in the last 2-3 years, and with their parents separating/going broke/remarrying/having love-children with the neighbors/are off in the military, the choices they ending up making becomes more believable. These girls are facing some relatable problems that girls today have to face, and that’s something admirable (and maybe a bit unique) about this television series.

Strong female characters, facing real problems, but in the midst of an intense and fictional mystery.

Love it!

How do you feel about the girls decision-making abilities? Too mature? Too childish? Let me know in the comments!



NEXT TIME: I am going to discuss more on why the woman of Pretty Little Liars are both awesome and admirable! It should a good one, and I’m really looking forward to getting this content out there for all those disbelievers. 

Pretty Little – Young Adult – Liars (Part 1)

PrettyLittleLiarsLet me start by admitting that I was captured by Pretty Little Liars immediately, but I only happened to start watching a month after the fifth season ended through the recommendation of a friend – thanks Becky! It is a very entertaining young adult series and thanks to Netflix, I could fill my days with the ebb and flow of this mystery tale. For the record, I have a lot to say about PLL, so this is the start of a mini-series of posts based on the TV show (starting with seasons 1-4).

There will be spoilers in all of these articles and, as it is a mystery, you may want to think twice before reading. However, I am going to assume that most of you are more up-to-date with basic pop culture than myself and know where Pretty Little Liars now stands – which means carry on reading and enjoy!

To give you a brief summary, based on the ABC Family version and from my perspective, this tale is about four young teens who are dealing with the death of their best friend and the girl who brought them all together, Allison DiLaurentis. After growing distant when their friend’s body was found, they all began to receive texts from an unknown sender who signs their little quips with ‘– A.’ Suspicious. Living in a wealthy town, there is no shortage of secrets to take advantage of, or suspects on who this A could actually be. With this overwhelming realization, the girls regroup and begin to understand that they can only trust each other. The girls even decide to keep their family and boyfriends in the dark of the troublesome blackmailing that occurs with the little sound of a text.

These girls have become the perfect friends – and I don’t mean in an unhealthy way. They stick together and stand up for themselves during confrontations. If there is an argument between two, the rest will remain neutral while the issues are sorted and everyone is able to move forward. If they need to call someone out, there is no hesitation in their approach – which is funny compared to all the secrets floating around. These traits are a stark contrast from what is represented back when Allison was the leader of their clique. In that time, the girls were silent to the harsh comments that came from Allison and took the abuse in discomfort. With the ‘new order’ in their social circle they are now on equal ground and are free to respect, love and protect each other.

In terms of storytelling, this group of girls should be idolized for their friendship. They are unafraid to be themselves and are fair to others that they interact with – unless there is some heightened paranoia with the whole psycho-stalker-thing, which is fair. These girls are able to face unfortunate events because they know they will not have to stand alone. Even if the decisions they make are unwise, they have each others backs through it all. Before Allison’s death, the clique was like a pyramid with Allison at the top, each girl pulled from a different social group to look up to Allison: Hannah – the overweight nerd, Spencer – the hyper-intelligent overachiever, Emily – the lesbian athlete, and Aria – the hipster with a taste for mature activities. In other words, each cliche you could want has been provided, which allows for a diverse viewership and consistently moving plot lines. Now, without Allison, the four are on equal footing- a square rather than a pyramid.

Love it.

Perhaps these characters are less than shocking, but their character markers allow for easy access in dealing with realistic themes themes that can support a teen girl going through similar situations. It is all the normal high school drama- made more exceptional with the enticing murder mystery plot. It keeps a lovely level of suspense and fear. They grow from their awkward teen years into young adults with a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive. They grow into pretty girls – inside and out.

More on Pretty Little Liars next time! 

The Emotions of War Horse

war-horse-1300x630__artist-largeThis story has captivated the world. It’s that simple.

From the Queen’s favorite production in London, to the creation of an award winning film and finalizing its popularity by bringing the original novel back to bestseller lists, this is the story of a farm boy and his horse, and how their lives become disrupted by the start of World War 1. One day the biggest concern is how Albert will keep his horse, Joey, out of his father’s hands. The next day, Joey is taken by the army to become part of the proud British Calvary. After that, Albert takes himself to the very edge to recover the life he lost the day Joey was taken. Together, horse and boy, fight their own battles in a war that no longer has room for proud war horses, rather, the battlefield is laden with tanks, machine guns and barbed wire.

It is clear that this adaptation from book to stage has been successful. From London to New York City to Melbourne to Berlin, audiences flock to the theater to sit through the most heart-wrenching production of an English boy, a German general and the horse that brings the humanity out of those he touches.

When I sat down in the round theater, I knew I had volunteered for something that would open the floodgates, though I could’ve have guessed what that really meant. With the music bursting into my chest, I was caught in the first breathes of the production. From foal to stallion, Joey pranced around the stage with the echoing excitement of Black Beauty. Three men worked the puppet that becomes Joey and not once did I ever notice them on the stage. Joey trotted, galloped, charged with the grace of his puppeteers for the entirety of the production and as an audience member you can only be captivated by the brilliance of the artist who created life out of metal and gears.

By the end of the evening, you could see the tears flow from every member of the audience – it’s the blessing of the round theater in which we sat. Husbands comforted wives, men pretended not to wipe the tears from their eyes, the woman next to me was inconsolable and I myself couldn’t dry my cheeks fast enough. There was a pride in the room as our world darkened. It was not pride for the English Calvary, though that was there. It was not pride for soldiers or victory or the strength the in horses were made march to march off to war. The pride that was felt by all of us was that even in the darkest moments there are those amongst us who never forget our humanity. The strength to sacrifice for a cause that is just, to care for those who cannot care for themselves and to remember that there is always a choice.

This is one adaptation that cannot be missed. The message is there, the success is clear.

War Horse will add to your life.

@kristinbergene @riverrampress

Black Beauty: Another Classic

MSDBLBE EC001First there was The Secret Garden, and then there was Black Beauty. I was such a horse-girl when I was child. There was an anthology about unicorns in my elementary school library that I checked out once a month to reread the stories. This lead me to selecting books because there was a horse on the cover, and I even fooled myself into thinking I liked cowboy books for more then their trusty steeds. Eventually, the librarian placed Black Beauty in my hands, a story I already knew well.

When it was time to relax with a movie, my parents sat us down to classics, The Secret Garden which I mentioned in my last article, and Black Beauty being two of that exceptional collection (more to come). Back then, I almost couldn’t tell these two films apart and I’d convinced myself that Dicken’s little white pony was Merrylegs, Black’s best little friend from his happier days on the estate with Ginger. (Especially because Andrew Knott played roles in both movies – ah, young love).

MV5BMjEwNTc3NzI4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk3MDcyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR10,0,214,317_For the horse-girl inside me this storyline could not be more enchanting. Anna Sewell caught the voice of a horse in the time when these gorgeous animals were as useful as they were objects to their owners. Only a lucky horse would end up being cared for the way a little girl would want to read. Sewell’s horse star, Black, met all sorts of masters who loved him and abused him, and finally came to rescue him. You can only imagine this story being an eye-opener for some horse owners to see a personified horse carrying out the standard work of pulling carts and wagons of hay with masters that seem unaware that there is life in the creature they whip. It had a great effect on me as a little girl and only added to the empathy I felt for life.

What amazes me is how this classic was brought to the screen and in a successful way. A horse narrates the story in the book and in the film. There is very little dialogue that moves the scenes and human involvement is coincidental for the most part. As a child, these story telling maneuvers might be overlooked, but as an adult there is always a sense of humor when an animal’s voice tells the story, (two horrifying examples come to mind; one with a blue dragon and another with some wolves in a vampire romance). However, as an adult you can sit down to this movie and enjoy the voice of Black Beauty. It is another great tale to read over and over again, or view over and over again, as your life redevelops the story lines and the movie allows you to do this, humor free.

Adventure, smiles, heartbreak and the constant journey for a home and acceptance fill the pages of this book. As a child, I knew this story was great, even if I didn’t understand the term ‘classic.’ It is yet another story from our childhood that shows what film adaptation can be, and should be, about. In short: a simple, honest expression of the words that have captivated readers of all ages.

And on that note, I have a movie to watch. 

Was Black Beauty a staple in your childhood? Tell us about your favorite memory in the comments!

The Secret Garden – Then and Now

When I was younger there was a certain collection of classic stories that were turned into movies. It seems like everyone around my age was sat in front of them, only to find themselves so engaged they had to watch the films over and over again. Essentially, they may have been the first adaptations we saw, without even realizing.

As a child, when I first saw The Secret Garden I could not read. It was a story that captured me and the relationship I felt I had with my own backyard. I remember being a little girl, thinking the robins that bobbed around could understand me and that we were exploring together in the woods of my backyard, complete with wild flowers and wild rose bushes. It was years later when I discovered the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The pages engulfed me once again, but as age does to a reader, I found a new story in the pages that kept me entranced. It was less about the garden and much more about the secrets.

the-secret-gardenThe movie was made for children. Just enough dark to keep you frightened and hiding behind the couch, but enough light-hearted adventure to pull you closer to the screen. The white pony, the castle in the hills, magic around a large fire, the stone walls around a secret place to play and that old wooden swing remain images in my mind as I recall the film. Even the hint of a romance with the dashing Dicken, (the first love of my life), and Mary.

Of course, as a child you can’t quite put a finger on that layer of love, but are intrigued by it all the same.

The book was still made for children, but as literature does in comparison to film, the plot and story lines are considerably slowed down. When I first read it, I was a very slow reader, and the pacing seemed to change the tone of book. I began to see the darkness in the family in contrast to the lighter story of getting a boy in a wheelchair into the garden.

The loss of a mother and a sick little boy abandoned by his father, who refrains from looking at his son from the hurt of memories. The same hurt that caused him to lock up and neglect his wife’s garden for years until Mary’s appearance. The type of loss and the impact it was able to have over an entire household was something new to me and it forever changed the way I watched the adaptation of the film.

The older I became, the more I could see these lines in the film. It seemed the more disturbing depth I could see, the more hooked I became as I began to see the brilliance of a film created for all generations. A good time to a three year old, but with the abilty to bring tear to a woman in her 50s. It even can bring a second thought to a title so familiar that we hardly notice the depth in the words chosen by publishers long ago to describe the entire story…

The Secret Garden

How old were you when you first read the book? Saw the film? How has the story changed with you over time?