After having just read and posted about Exit, Pursued by a Bear and now just finishing after an obsessive day of reading Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West, I am elated by the resurgence of Shakespeare-inspired YA fiction.
For this story, there is no doubt that Shakespeare seeps from the pages from the title to the incorporation of a main character who acts: you’d be hard-pressed to find an actor who hasn’t played a character in one of his plays. Jaye is now in high school and playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream opposite her childhood friend, Pierce, who has been distant over the last few years, but is taking up acting in his senior year. Yet Jaye’s life has been rocked by a brain injury during a skiing accident with her mother and sister. Not only does she want to leave the hospital to get back to the play and her friends, she’s feigning good-health when instead she’s seeing and hearing Shakespeare characters including the bard himself, Hamlet, and Romeo. Romeo turns out to be the new kid in town and a love interest for Jaye, while also epitomizing the possible bad decisions that Jaye has continuously made and that had disappointed her father before his untimely death. Insert the love triangle as Pierce becomes overprotective of the healing Jaye.
There is much to discover within the pages, from lines from the plays to Jaye’s family dynamics, healing from a brain injury, and healthy decision-making. The writing and pacing engage readers from start to finish with a seamless incorporation of the hallucinated characters. So once readers tune in to Jaye’s new normal, the book is easy to follow. It’s not about mental illness and it’s not true magic, it’s simply her brain’s reaction to the trauma. And she certainly doesn’t want to admit it to anyone either.
With the amount of drama between the pages, it doesn’t have to be a “literary” teen who will enjoy it because it’s contemporary realism with a pinch of canon. But you better be ready to hear from them once they turn the final pages. It wouldn’t be true Shakespeare without it.