Hi everyone! Today I’m here with another ARC review, but sadly this is for one I just really didn’t get along with. I’d rather write reviews about books I love, but in this case I felt that, particularly with the themes discussed, it was important to share my opinions!
Title: The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life
Author: Dani Jansen
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Synopsis: Alison Green, desperate valedictorian-wannabe, agrees to produce her school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s her first big mistake. The second is accidentally saying Yes to a date with her oldest friend, Jack, even though she’s crushing on Charlotte. Alison manages to stay positive, even when her best friend starts referring to the play as “Ye Olde Shakespearean Disaster.” Alison must cope with the misadventures that befall the play if she’s going to survive the year. She’ll also have to grapple with what it means to be “out” and what she might be willing to give up for love.
The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life follows Alison, who desperately wants to be valedictorian, and who is given the role of producer of the school play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Despite all the chaos that comes along wish producing a play, Alison is also facing some craziness in her personal life – the girl she has a crush on is starring in the play and let slip that she thinks Alison is cute but Alison has accidentally landed herself on a date with her oldest friend, Jack, even though her best friend has a not-so-secret crush on him, and Alison herself is most definitely gay.
This book had such a fun premise – I absolutely love books where the main character is involved in some way with a play or a movie, and as someone who went to drama classes and was in a couple of shows growing up, school plays are something that I love to read about. Plus, this book has one of the prettiest covers I’ve ever seen, so of course I had to request an ARC! However, this book fell extremely flat for me and it got to the point that I couldn’t continue reading without outwardly cringing at some of the characters actions.
From the get go the writing style feels almost juvenile, which I feel bad saying, but it’s true. I normally don’t mind if the writing style of a book isn’t lyrical, flowery purple prose, as it isn’t something that really affects my enjoyment of a book. However, this felt – and no offense to teenagers! – like someone had written it for a creative writing project in school. Everything about it, from the characters to the plot, felt so underdeveloped and it just jumped from one scene to the next, focussing, for the most part, on the play. I definitely feel like the writing could have done with a bit more editing before being released into the world, but do take this with a pinch of salt as I read the ARC and it could be that there have been some amendments to that in the finished copy.
As I mentioned, the plot was something that really stood out to me when requesting the ARC for this book. I absolutely love seeing how hectic school plays are in literature, and this had the added bonus of the main character being dumped with a large part of the work, after a teacher decides to shunt it all onto her. I think the author managed to capture this hectic atmosphere really well and I think it’s one of the highlights of the book for me – you can feel the stress emanating from Alison as the play keeps spiralling into chaos.
Despite this, the characters really didn’t do it for me. Our main character Alison feels like every other YA contemporary protagonist. She’s nerdy, she’s going for valedictorian, she’s not like other girls (aka wearing purple and silver nail polish is too outlandish for her). In all fairness, I didn’t mind Alison. At times she frustrated me but that’s to be expected from a main character, particularly when you look at the situations she is put in. But every other character felt like a caricature – you have the gay guy who is in charge of costumes because he’s dressed really well, you have the goth girl who sits by herself at lunch time and is moody all the time, and you have the asshole who draws boobs all over folder (although if you’ve met any teenage boy, you’ll know its another type of anatomy they like to draw everywhere). Outside of the play, these characters also had no development – from what I read of the book, I couldn’t tell you anything about Alison, other than she’s gay, she wants to be valedictorian and she hates that red folder containing tips about producing a play. As someone who loves character driven books and well fleshed-out characters, this was a real disappointment to me.
I don’t want this review to all be doom and gloom, but I do think it’s important to discuss a couple of the themes that popped up in the book. I’ve seen a couple of reviews on Goodreads mention this, but the word lesbian is never used in the novel. I understand that there is some nuance that needs to be had with this discussion, in that for young lesbians, as was the case for me for many years, it can be difficult to identify with that word because of the negative connotations placed upon it by cishet members of society. However, one way that this stigma can be fought is by having characters that proudly use lesbian to describe themselves, instead of just saying that they don’t like guys, or in Alison’s case, that she’s gay. I think particularly since this is targeted at a teen audience, this would have been very important to see. Furthermore, it is mentioned that when Alison first comes out to her (cishet) best friend, her best friend tells her that it’s not enough to only be out to her and that she needs to tell her family. It is never okay to decide when someone else comes out, and it is never okay to assume that people are comfortable doing so. Although I didn’t get that far in the book, I have seen reviews mentioning that this happens again later in the book with a closeted character. This is not something that should be shown as okay in a book that is marketed for teens. Finally, cultural appropriation is touched upon, which I appreciate and think should be discussed more in YA. However, the situation it is brought up in feels so exaggerated and over-the-top ridiculous that it just seems implausible and almost takes away from the power of the scene.
Although this book has its faults, and was really just not for me, I think it’s important to note that I, as a 22-year-old, am not the target audience, and I do think that someone in that target audience would really enjoy this book – it has an engaging plot and realistic teen dialogue that would appeal to many teens today!