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My Teeth and Ambitions Are Bared, Be Prepared!

Erin reviews a modern retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective, Falling For Hamlet by Michelle Ray.

My Teeth and Ambitions Are Bared, Be Prepared!

BOOK REPORT for Falling For Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Cover Story: Oh, Jeez
BFF Charm: A Sassy Gay Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: On A High School Scale? 9. On An Emotionally Functional Adult Scale? -9
Talky Talk: Strange Things Are Afoot At the Circle-K
Bonus Factors: Modern Retelling, The Other Side of the Coin
Relationship Status: I'll Keep a Stock of Ice Cream For You

Cover Story: Oh, Jeez.

I brought this book home with me to visit my family, who typically have one of three reactions to this FYA enterprise: 1) "Why don't you like vampire books? Have you read that new vampire book?" 2) "Isn't YA for, like, kids?" or 3) "When is this going to start making you some money?" (That said, they're totally supportive of the endeavor. Particularly if it made money.)

This is the kind of cover I dreaded pulling out in front of them. "Shit!" I thought. "Why couldn't I be reading Frankie Landau-Banks again for the eighth time?" Anyway, it's certainly not going to help out on the YAngelist cause, but, uh, at least Ophelia's butt looks good in that skirt? I don't know.

The Deal:

If you somehow managed to escape your formative years without reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, or if you are in your formative years and are trying to get out of reading Hamlet, let me give you a brief recap of events: There's this guy Hamlet, and he's the Prince of Denmark. His mom is a slore called Gertrude and his father is much beloved, until he dies of MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES that are actually because Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, kills him in the ear. Claudius then marries Queen Gertrude and takes over the throne. This causes Hamlet to turn into a totally crazy prick, who no longer trusts anyone around him, not even his bestie Horatio or his girlfriend Ophelia. To be fair, some forces are conspiring against him, and he isn't really sure who to trust. Also, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are there, but they aren't really that cool until Tom Stoppard pays attention to them sometime in the 1960s. Anyhooskies, Hamlet tries in vain to best Claudius and at one point accidentally kills Ophelia's dad, Polonius, who was hiding behind a curtain like it's a fucking episode of Scooby Doo. Ophelia freaks out because her boyfriend is a dickhead who killed her dad and she drowns herself in a lake. Then Claudius stages this big Come To Jesus fencing event with Hamlet and Claudius tries to poison Hamlet but kills Gertrude instead and then there's this huge battle with poisoned swordsand everyone but Horatio dies. And there's a skull of a man called Yorick in there somewhere, and that's where that joke comes from.

Or you can just watch The Lion King, if you want to see this all in cartoon format.

This book looks at events through Ophelia's eyes. Set in sort-of-modern-day Denmark, Ophelia finds herself caught up in the crazy shizz going down at the Royal Palace, torn between earning her father's trust and respect and fixing her relationship with her increasingly crazytown boyfriend, Hamlet. Meanwhile, she's juggling the pressures of fame. Can she do it?

No. Of course she can't. Did you even read anything I just said? Jesus.

BFF Charm: A Sassy Gay Yay!

If you don't watch Second City's Sassy Gay Friend skits on Youtube, you lose in life. The premise, generally, is that Sassy Gay Friend comes to dispense some advice to some of literature's leading - and stupid - ladies, keeping them from doing the dumbass shit that their male authors make them do in order to advance the plots of their books. Hey, someone has to be the dumb person who screws everything up, and for Shakespeare, it's always a woman. Or a Jewish person.

Sassy Gay Friend has some words of advice for Ophelia (watch the video below!), and everything he has to say to her has been put into this book, thankfully. So instead of hating Ophelia and thinking she is the absolute WORST, like I usually do, I felt myself thinking, "Girl, you're doing stupid things, but I realize why you're doing them, and more, you realize that you're doing them, so let's flip our scarves over our shoulders and get recreational haircuts. We are stupid bitches."

Swoonworthy Scale: On A High School Scale? 9. On An Emotionally Functional Adult Scale? -9

Oh man, I GET IT, I do. Falling for the tortured soul? Trying to pull your boyfriend back from the brink of insanity and putting up with his moody behavior and stupid self-destructive bullshit? Totally hot. Every person needs at least one drama-filled relationship in their lives; otherwise what would we all talk about when we get drunk and play Kings? But that's the key word: One. You get one. After that, you have to cut out the emotional fuckwittery in your life and find yourself a grown up to love. You get one Daniel Cleaver. Then you trade him in for an infinitely better Mark Darcy. That's how this love stuff works.

And, from my own experiences, 'tis a far better thing to get that shizz out of the way as early as possible. I'm talking, 16-22 year olds, tops. After that, no more drama. Someone threatening to kill themselves if you dump them stops being sexy right around the age your metabolism changes and you can no longer drink a bottle of vodka without suffering a hangover. Words of advice from your elderly friend Erin!

Talky Talk: Strange Things Are Afoot At the Circle-K

Ray pulls off a pretty tricky task - weaving Shakespearean quotes and plot devices into modern times - with ease. She presents a strong-willed Ophelia who is nevertheless stuck trying to make the men in her life happy - balancing the moody and brutal Hamlet against her grief-stricken but emotionally unavailable father against the commands of her new King. This is a position that far too many strong-willed women find themselves in (if not exactly those players), so it was really refreshing to read a take on Hamlet that was half light-hearted and fluffy and half dark and intense.

That said, it's still a little weird to read about Laertes and Horatio drinking espressos, for instance. So even though this was set in modern times, there was just enough of that mid-millineal attitude to keep one just a little unsettled.

Bonus Factor: Modern Retelling

Modern retellings are the new zombie werewolf vampire angels. But thankfully, I'm not quite done with them yet. This is my favorite type of retelling, because it makes a character I hate likeable.

Bonus Factor: The Other Side of the Coin

My favorite part of this book was the details behind the scenes. In Hamlet, Ophelia only really shows up in a few scenes, and in most of them she makes no sense at all. This book got into the befores and afters of those scenes in a way that showed that Ophelia wasn't quite as daft as she seems.

Casting Call:

You guys, I am totally stuck on this one, honestly. There are only two Hamlet productions I've ever liked and everyone was around forty. So I'm opening up the Casting Call! We've all read Hamlet; who would you pick to play the characters?

Relationship Status: I'll Keep a Stock of Ice Cream For You

Book, when you first came to me, I just shook my head and sighed. After all, we both know how your story was going to end. Heartbreak and poison and death. But I decided to take a chance on you anyway, and I'm really glad I did. You let me see how complicated your relationship really was, and while normally I just would have been all, DTMFA, your explanation of events led me to see things from your side.

So, even though I know your love life is not going to work out, I'm going to keep a stock of ice cream for you anyway. That way, when things go pear-shaped, you can come hang out on my couch, eat buttered pecan by the quart, and cry it all out.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown. I received neither money nor cocktails for this review (damnit!). Falling for Hamlet is available in stores now.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.