Dani Noir by Nova Ben Suma

Film noir: genre of film, originally between 1940 and 1960, originating in the United States, employing heavy shadows and patterns of darkness, in which the protagonist dies, meets defeat, or achieves meaningless victory in the end.
A film/movie characterized by low-key lighting, a bleak urban setting, and corrupt, cynical or desperate characters.
Dark film, a term applied by French critics to a type of American film, usually in the detective or thriller genres, with low-key lighting and a somber mood.

Danielle, aka Dani, is a big fan of film noir. She’s especially fascinated with femme fatale actress Rita Hayworth. And it’s good for Dani that she has something like old movies to think about and a place like Little Art movie theater to go to, because the rest of her life . . . well, as Dani herself observes, “If this were a movie, I would’ve walked out by now. . . . Kick the slimy dregs of popcorn under the seat and head home.”

I loved reading this book. Dani is a self-centered, thirteen year old brat in some ways, but I didn’t get annoyed with her the same way I do with some bratty characters either in books or in real life. Maybe I felt as if Dani was trying to deal with the difficulties in her life in the only way she knew how. She’s not very kind to her dad, but then again he’s just recently left Dani’s mom and moved in with his girlfriend, Cheryl, in a house on the other side of the river. And Dani isn’t very patient with Austin, the guy who works at the movie theater, but he really is sort of annoying. Also Dani doesn’t obey her mom and she lies to her mom and she is determined to get her own way, but Dani’s motives are pure, or at least sort of pure: she’s trying to help a friend and right an injustice.

Unfortunately, just like in a noir movies, there are a lot of shadows and grey areas and lies and imperfection in Dani’s life. And in the end movies are just movies and reality is something else, something that keeps going and doesn’t end, not with a gunshot nor with a kiss. But movies do help Dani, as she says:

“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.

If this were a movie and the sun was going down on Shanosha, the femme fatale would have the last laugh, of course, walking off into the sunset with all her secrets.”

Great book. It made me want to go watch all of the films mentioned in the book: Notorious (with my favorite, Cary Grant), The Lady From Shanghai (Rita Hayworth), Casablanca, The Big Sleep (Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart), and The Postman Always RIngs Twice (Lana Turner).

Dani Noir is a fairly typical middle grade divorce story, but it’s enlivened by the noir atmosphere and the references to film and film history and by Dani’s voice which is snarky and vulnerable at the same time, like a femme fatale. Read it if it sounds like your kind of story, and in the meantime I have two questions for you to answer in the comments.

1. What is your favorite film noir?

2. What is your favorite comfort movie? What do you watch when you want to forget about your problems and get lost in movie world?

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One or more of these books is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.

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