The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life
by Dani Jansen
Publishing House: Second Story Press
Genre and themes: Light-hearted contemporary, F\F romance
Content \ Trigger Warnings: None that I can think of
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.
I received my copy via Netgalley
There’s two things this book promises: a play and a f\f romance. It falls short on both.
F\F + Shakespeare is right up my alley. Contemporary, not so much. That said, here are some of my thoughts:
All these characters are so underdeveloped, I genuinely don’t know why the love interest likes our protagonist, or why I should like her. No one, including Alison, has any hobbies or interests outside of what can serve this play. No one has a backstory or a reason for doing what they’re doing.
Alison (mc) supposedly wants to be a valedictorian, but like I said, she has no after-school activities or hobbies or any interests. We only actually see her doing homework once and that’s in the last 3rd of the book. She didn’t even want to be head of the school play, she was pushed into the position.
On top of that, all the characters have very common names – Becca, Charlotte, Jack, Alison, Annie, Zach, Jenny – I kept forgetting or confusing their names. I even forgot Alison’s name at one point. I typically read high fantasy, so I’m used to reading and memorizing hard names. I really think it comes down to undeveloped characters – I had no personality to attach these names to.
The only person who might have had any characterization is the douchebag, because he at least has a defining characteristic. But he still lacked any motivation or backstory. I’ll add more in the spoiler tag below this, since a big part of his character is also a big spoiler.
SpoilerHe’s secretly gay, but acts super aggressively straight so no one realizes it. At best that’s an overdone trope, but it’s unclear why he feels the need to act like this when there are other out people in the high school? What’s his home life like to act like this? I have no idea.
Nitpick: There’s a scene where Allison puts on two-inch heels, and she has this whole dramatic thing where she’s like how can women even walk in these things?? Look, I’m over scenes like this for a number of reasons, none of which I’ll get into in this post. But considering they were two inch heels and not stilettos, it just made me roll my eyes and made me dislike the characters more.
The lack of characterization ended up affecting the romance. Alison was super obsessed with Charlotte, and there really wasn’t a reason beyond…she looked cute? I’ve always been very personality-based, so maybe this is just something I find weird. Let me know what you think.
For a while every chapter seemed to end with Alison thinking “well, as least Charlotte thinks I’m cute!” and, I’m not going to lie, it got old fast. Especially because I was still wondering why Charlotte even likes Alison in the first place.
I already mentioned this above somewhat, but the romantic tension is underdeveloped and the pacing was way too fast. They start texting, and we see a few basic texts – hi, how are you, etc. – before we get the line “we texted back and forth for hours” and then Alison just asks her out.All of Alison’s previous anxiety – which had held her back before this – seemed to fly out the window. I have no reason to root for them because there was no build up. It felt like I was reading a first draft, and there was supposed to be some chapters in between those two events.
I was really excited for some Shakespearean influences in this novel. I knew it wasn’t a direct retelling, but since the play was the whole premise of the novel, I thought that there were opportunities missed to make fun references.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the more interesting Shakespeare play. Considering the themes and tropes in the original, I thought elements of it could be an excellent addition to the novel. Most notably: cross-dressing, misunderstandings, and love triangles could be things very easily incorporated in a high school play setting. And with the synopsis provided? Seemed to fit right into the already existing plot. For those who already knew the play, it would have been a fun reference, and if you didn’t, it would make it a lot of fun.
This isn’t really a complaint on the story, as I added expectations that weren’t explicitly stated to be there. I basically assumed a novel about putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have references, which it doesn’t have to have. That said, I was still disappointed.
As for the play part…this whole story hinges around the fact that there is a play. But it fell short for a few reasons:
1) (mild spoiler) There was a whole subplot about not having enough money that just…up and disappeared? They apparently just worked it out? It added no tension to the story.
2) There was no timeline. I had no reference to how long until the play was supposed to go on, or even how long it took to put it together. So when it was finally time for the play, it seemed like it came out of nowhere and then was over.
3) And then there’s the play itself. It was underwhelming. There was no one keeping track of the timeline throughout the book, so the night of the play seemed to pop up out of nowhere. It ruined the tension in the story, and then the play itself lasted only a page or two, so overall it was pretty disappointing. Considering the whole book hinged on this play, I would think we would get to see more of it.
There was also a side story about a competing theater troupe that just disappeared…?
Unfortunately, I didn’t really like it. It was definitely fun and lighthearted, and I think it had a ton of potential, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I’m keeping the author on my watch list to see what she publishes in the future, as I think she’s got a good voice that comes through in her stories and word choices. I’m leaving this story with two stars.
Disclaimer: my review is based on my life experience and reading preferences. It’s not an attack on the author, or others who liked or disliked the book.