The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life

The premise of this book is both cute and interesting, it sounds like a perfect queer rom-com full of wacky adventures and high school shenanigans. It’s about Alison, a girl dead set on becoming valedictorian and in order to seal the deal, she agrees to produce the school play. She is woefully unprepared and inexperienced and every step of the way she is confronted with and creates problems that threaten the plays very future. Unfortunately, I had more problems with this book than I did positive notes.

Some good things about this book are the friend and family dynamics felt very real. The hurt, the love, the fighting, it all felt like it was plucked out of real life. I also really enjoyed that there were multiple queer characters instead of just one or two. The relationship was cute and I enjoyed the blossoming young sapphic love and all the anxieties that come with first dates and first girlfriends. It was both funny and sweet to read.

Now onto the sadder part, things I didn’t like. The main character never refers to herself as a lesbian. Why? That’s what she is and she uses the word in the book, but never to describe herself. It feels weird that she would not describe herself as a lesbian and it comes across as avoiding the label altogether. The second thing I didn’t enjoy and actually have a big problem with is the forced outings. We learn early on that Alison was forced to come out to her parents by her best friend Becca, something that a real best friend would never say to do. Then there was the “if you’re dating someone in the closet then it’s not real” trope which is just insulting. This lead to another person feeling like they had to come out on a public scale in order to be with someone they care about. That’s a horrible message to be sending to young readers queer or not. It tells them that it’s ok to force people to come out and it perpetuates harmful relationships. This same boy fell victim to the closeted, overly sexual, hyper-masculine, jerk trope and while I understand that it is a thing that happens, I think we can all agree that all it does is reaffirm toxic beliefs and encourages the use of “gay” as an insult and the idea that every homophobe/sexist jerk must secretly be gay. It paints gay men as inherently mean.

I had a hard time accepting the behavior of some characters, but I kept reminding myself that they are teenagers and aren’t as mature and seasoned as adults so while I felt frustrated by their actions, I conceded that they were realistic. Except in the case of Alison, someone who kept repeating the same mistakes and seemingly never learning from them. It is hard to accept that someone so intelligent could not learn from something that just happened in order to not repeat the same outcome. Whether it was her friends, her sister, the people involved with the play, or her girlfriend, she kept making mistakes that she made not even a quarter of the way into the book.

As far as Mr. Evans goes, I found him to be both a caricature and upsetting. A grown man being in a role where he is in a romantic situation with a student (even if nothing happens) is so inappropriate. He could have just recast someone in the play. He also put so much on the student that is producing the play alone, for the first time, instead of realizing that he needed to step in and support her.

There were elements to this book that felt like it could have been so great and I saw the potential for a fun yet dramatic story, but it was just filled with harmful tropes and characterizations that ruined it. I’m sad. I think this book could have benefitted from a sensitivity reading from queer readers so that they could impart some advice that would have helped make this live up to its potential.

Published by keelinrita

A Chicago girl with a lot of feelings about fictional people.

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