I definitely watched episodes of Hey Arnold! when they originally aired on Nickelodeon in the late ’90s and early ’00s, but, at 15 to 23, was slightly too old to really appreciate or spend significant time with it back then. That can all change now that the whole series (“All 99 football-headed adventures,” the box boasts) is out on DVD for the first time. So far, the 16-disc box set is only available as a Walmart exclusive, but supporting the big box retailer might be worth it for fans who want to spend 38 quality hours of real time with Helga, Gerald, Eugene, Harold, and, of course, Arnold. My only quibble is that, even with all these hours of show, there’s no bonus material with the set. I mean, seriously. How am I ever going to find out why Arnold’s hat was so damn small? [Marah Eakin]
Owl John, Owl John
Side projects are frequently used for one of two reasons: taking a poppier direction than the rest of your band wants to, or exploring your more out-there ideas. Frightened Rabbit chief Scott Hutchison is definitely taking the latter road as Owl John, whose self-titled debut sounds like his main band’s darker, fuzzier moments. That means it’s a little denser and without easy entry points, but also incredibly rewarding once it’s been unpacked. These 10 songs were written and recorded over just a couple of weeks, and they play just as well as mood pieces as they do pop songs, from “Hate Music” on one end of the spectrum to “Cold Creeps”—which could be a Frightened Rabbit song if it were a bit more polished. [Josh Modell]
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
I’m not sure I realized the weight of this book until after I’d finished it—it’s been three days, and it’s still haunting me. The Freedom Maze tells the story of Sophie Fairchild Martineau, a white 13-year-old girl in 1960 who slips through time to her family’s slave-owning plantation 100 years earlier. Barefoot and summer-tanned, she’s mistaken by her ancestors as a light-skinned slave. That Sophie looks like a Fairchild only makes this scenario more likely, since the plantation owners casually assume one of the Fairchild men raped a slave.
Other than the time travel, there’s not much magic here—slipping through time is really just a thin frame for an otherwise robust story of what it’s like to be a slave in 1860. But author Delia Sherman, who spent years doing research for this book, tells the story with a detail and vitality that creeps under your skin and stays there. I haven’t read much about slavery since high school, where the broad strokes of history books put it at a considerable remove. Sherman dissolved any distance I might have felt, replacing it with a compellingly written story about slavery. Because the book is intended for a YA audience, sexual aggression is portrayed but rape merely hinted at, and gruesome plantation accidents are described in moving but not distressing detail. It’s also a fascinating look at Southern life in 1860 shortly before the Civil War—which Sophie’s grandmother calls the War Of Northern Aggression—including descriptions of outhouses and chamber pots, 19th-century medical practices, and food and dress.
As far as I know, I don’t have ancestral ties with slave owners. But no matter when one’s ancestors arrived Stateside, racism is a cultural legacy all Americans must bear, and a significant part of that is due to slavery. Sherman takes a big subject and makes it deeply personal and affecting—even to this white reader in 2014. [Laura M. Browning]