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Hey Nonny Nonny

In Speak Easy, Speak Love, McKelle George reimagines Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in a 1920s speakeasy.

Hey Nonny Nonny

BOOK REPORT for Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Cover Story: Colorful
BFF Charm: Make It Rain
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: 1920s Lite
Bonus Factor: Much Ado About Nothing
Anti-Bonus Factor: Racism
Relationship Status: Frequent Patron

Cover Story: Colorful

Aesthetically, I like this cover. It’s bright and pretty and the title treatment is to the point. But when I put some thought into it, I’m not entirely sure what the image is supposed to invoke? Very 1920s, sure, but them not having legs is a little strange.

The Deal:

In its heyday, the Hey Nonny Nonny speakeasy was the talk of Long Island. But then Anna, the Stahr family matriarch, died from influenza. Her husband, Leo, turned to booze to drown his sorrows, and it was up to Hero, her daughter, to keep things afloat.

With the help of "Prince" Morello and Benedick Scott, and Hero’s cousin Beatrice, Hero just might be able to keep her mother’s legacy alive. That is, if Benedick and Beatrice don’t kill each other first.

BFF Charm: Make It Rain

Although Speak Easy, Speak Love is essentially Benedick and Beatrice’s story, the book is filled with colorful, intriguing characters—all of whom deserve BFF charms. As main characters go, Benedick and Beatrice are delightful versions of the ones immortalized by William Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice is super intelligent, and doesn’t mind reminding everyone she meets. She’s brash and honest to a fault. But she’s also sassy and caring, and willing to revisit first impressions. Benedick is equally smart, but much less willing to let everyone know, and can be just as sassy given the right opponent. It would probably drive me crazy to be around them together, but separately, they’d be wonderful friends.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing is one of my all time favorite romances, and George did a great job of “updating” it to fit in a 1920s setting. It should come as no surprise that the swoon—and the enemistry—is real, and that these two crazy kids eventually get together.

“... Of course the real matter at hand was that heated discussion I spied between you and Ben. Lover’s spat?”

Even his name was like getting struck by a paralyzing needle: Beatrice’s skin tightened and recoiled. “No. A regular spat. Between two people who don’t like each other.”

“The line between like and dislike is almost invisible when attraction’s involved.” Hero’s tone turned sly.

“Which it isn’t!” Beatrice made an Olympic effort to keep the dragon out of her voice. She only partially succeeded.

Talky Talk: 1920s Lite

Going in to Speak Easy, Speak Love, I was a little worried about the possible inclusion of 1920s jargon. Thankfully, George shied away from inundating readers with too much slang, but used enough to ground the novel in the era.* Additionally, none of her characters felt too much like stereotypes, which can happen with retellings and historical fiction. I’m a total teetotaler, but I would love to be able to visit Hey Nonny Nonny and hang out with the crew.

*I was fearing something like The Diviners, which took me longer than usual to get invested in thanks to the way Bray’s characters talked. Bray pulled it off, mind you, but not everyone has her skills.

Bonus Factor: Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve said as much a few times already in this review, but Speak Easy, Speak Love is a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. The play is one of my favorites, so I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a retelling set in the 1920s. George did a great job of adapting the storyline, and I really love the twists on the plot and the characters she used to make the story her own. (Related: I recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, if you’re not apt to do that sort of thing regularly. It’s very informative.)

Anti-Bonus Factor: Racism

One of the secondary characters, Maggie, is a black woman and jazz singer. She’s one of the Hey Nonny Nonny family, but there are moments in which the ugly truth of being a person of color in the 1920s rears its head.

Speak Easy, Speak Love doesn’t delve deep into the issue, but I appreciate that George didn’t shy away from including it in the novel. It would have felt untruthful if she had.

Relationship Status: Frequent Patron

I don’t know that Hey Nonny Nonny would have made much money off me, Book, but I would have gladly paid the cover charge to get in, if just to listen to the music and enjoy the atmosphere. And maybe try to work my way into the inner circle, so I could stare knowingly while Ben and Beatrice bickered.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book Greenwillow Books, and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Speak Easy, Speak Love is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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