Today I have a guest post up at one of my favorite blogs, TwoWritingTeachers. Stacey and Ruth are some of my favorite bloggers and I am honored that they asked me to be a part of their guest post series this summer.
I’m a sucker for modern day retellings of classic stories. This, coupled with a reading of Hamlet in my English IV classes, attracted me to Falling for Hamlet, Michelle Ray’s debut novel.
Told from Ophelia’s point of view, Falling for Hamlet places Hamlet firmly in the modern era. Hamlet is still Denmark’s prince, but he is followed by paparazzi, parties at frat houses, and carries a smart phone. Ophelia lives in the very modern castle and has been dating Hamlet on and off for years. Her father is the Danish king’s most trusted advisor and she lives a glamorous life. However, life isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. She and Hamlet can never have a real moment together, thanks to his overbearing mother and the insanity of the paparazzi.
Michelle Ray has managed to modernize the tale of Hamlet while also staying faithful to the original. All of the characters are here and match very closely with Shakespeare’s original creations. Each chapter of Falling for Hamlet opens with Ophelia being interviewed by TV personality, Zara. (Zara is pretty much Opra). Zara is attempting to delve into the scandal and gossip that has plagued the Danish royal family and it’s an interesting way to bring the reader into the story. I feel like Shakespeare would approve of this writing device. Most of the chapters end with quotes of the transcript from Ophelia’s interrogation by Francisco and Bernardo, agents of the DDI (Danish Department of Investigation). Again, I loved this craft tool.
I really enjoyed the way Ray was able to take Shakespeare’s classic story and make it modern without changing the story completely. I look forward to sharing this with my students, as a way of demonstrating how the themes present in Shakespeare’s plays are relevant in today’s world. All of the themes, characters, jokes, and innuendo are there. It’s just modern. And come on, how much would Shakespeare have loved the addition of tabloids and paparazzai?
I admit I do like the cover, despite some hate for it on other blogs. It’s a tabloid-y cover and captures the story well. Ophelia is strong and sane, but she is trying to care for Hamlet, care for her father, and be a normal high school senior. Sometimes she just wants a minute alone with her boyfriend! On the other hand, I look forward to seeing what they do with the paperback cover. I do hope the cover doesn’t turn some people off, because this is a great book and a fantastic adaptation of Hamlet. It’s not a light and fluffy chick lit book- it’s dark and brooding, moody and upsetting. It’s Hamlet.
*ARC courtesy of the publisher
I have to warn you about Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel. Want to Go Private? will make you squirm. It will make you uncomfortable and angry. You will want to put the book down and you will pray that Sarah Darer Littman is exaggerating and that events like those in the book don’t happen. But then I read articles like this, this, and this. All were published in the past month and only scratch the surface of the Google news results for online predators.
I hated Want to Go Private?. Despised it. I felt gross just reading it. Yet I could not put it down. Darer Littman has written an important and powerful book about the dangers of online predators and it should be required reading for parents and teachers. Adults want to believe that teens are “too smart” to fall for predators in this age of internet safety assemblies, guidance counselor pamphlets, and PSAs. But this book is proof positive that even the smartest and best kids can be “groomed” and it’s important that we, the gatekeepers, make them aware of the dangers on the internet. I blog, so obviously I am a huge proponent of the internet. (That sounds silly- is anyone really anti-internet?). I am a huge proponent of my students using the internet. But kids need to be smart and they need to be aware of the dangers that can be out there online. Just like we teach kids about stranger danger at the park and in parking lots, we need to constantly ensure that teens and tweens are aware of online stranger danger.
Abby is a smart kid. She’s a straight A student and a rule-follower. She’s starting her freshman year of high school and she is nervous. Her best friend, Faith, seems to be making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities. Abby is sort of floating along, wishing that things weren’t changing. She may have hated some parts of middle school, but she did like the innocence of it. High school seems so much more real to her. When Luke befriends her on ChezTeen.com, a new website for teens (as Abby says, everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so the teens are constantly migrating), she is flattered. She makes sure that she keeps it anonymous and casual, being smart about not sharing any identifying information about herself. Luke is understanding, listens to her rants and complaints, always takes her side. He’s perfect.
Abby and Luke grow closer as the school year moves forward. He’s always there for her and she looks forward to coming home from school and talking to him. When he shares that he is a little older than her, she isn’t worried. It’s flattering that someone in his twenties is interested in her. Plus, he doesn’t actually know her. Things get more complicated when her grades start slipping and Luke asks if he can send her a cell phone, so they can talk without anyone knowing. And when he asks her to meet him at a particularly vulnerable time in her life, Abby’s life changes forever.
As you read, you follow Abby’s thought process and as an adult, the grooming she undergoes is blatantly obvious. But Abby is a teen and her arguments are logical in her own head. I could hear some of my own teens making the same justifications. But when Sarah Darer Littman switches from Abby’s perspective to those of her friends and family, the book becomes even deeper. Abby’s decisions affect her family, her friends, her classmates, her teachers, and her town. Her own life will never be the same after the decisions she makes.
Abby is an irritating character because the reader wants to shake her and say “You are being preyed upon!”. But at the same time, she’s a believable teen. Her actions and decisions make sense to her and the reader is supposed to be upset by them. You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire book, despite the eerie feeling that you know exactly what is going to happen.
Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is in important book. It’s intense and gripping, and a cautionary tale that parents and teens alike should read. Highly recommended. This is a book that you will want to read and discuss with your kids.
*review copy courtesy of the publisher
I read Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I also enjoyed that movies that were made afterwards. Last month, I was surprised to learn that Ann Brashares had written a new Sisterhood novel, but that this one was aimed at the adult market. I picked up a copy and added it to my vacation pile, knowing there was no way I could miss out on the end of the series.
Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) takes place ten years after the last book in the series. Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen have grown apart as their lives begin to move down different paths. I’ve been invested in the Septembers since the beginning, feeling like I was growing up alongside them. I think Brashares is a brave woman: many of the women who love Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen are in their late twenties now so it makes sense that they would continue to connect with them as they close in on thirty years old. But at the same time, there is no way an author will make everyone happy. I struggle to summarize the plot of Sisterhood Everlasting because I don’t want to give anything away. Just know that the girls are adults now, so they are dealing with adult problems. Life isn’t simple and there are no easy answers. People grow and change, but the girls are the same at the core. They still need each other, whether they admit it or not.
The girls are growing up and have grown apart. While they consider the rest of the group to be their best friends, they aren’t in touch as often and life keeps getting in the way of planned reunions, emails, and phone calls. All of the girls are relatable and true to the personalities they have had all along. The stakes are higher in some ways, because they are adults now. But does that mean they don’t need each other anymore? This is the question they all struggle with as they grow up and grow older. Brashares explores this in a real and heart-wrenching way.
If you’re a fan of the Sisterhood book, read Sisterhood Everlasting. You owe it to yourself and the characters to see them through to the end. It’s well worth the ride, despite the tears along the way. I am so happy that Brashares made the decision to revisit the Septembers as adults and didn’t succumb to the inevitable pressure of the perfect “happily ever after”. If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t pick this one up! For one, I don’t think people who missed out on the series will be able to follow the Septembers through their adult lives. Too many nods to their past and important events mean newcomers may be lost. Plus, reading this book first will destroy the rest of the series for you. Just trust me on that one! You won’t be able to get through the first few books, because of the tears that will be falling.
Highly recommended for fans of Brashares’ earlier books.