Friday, July 15, 2016

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne, 2010

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Hamlet Kennedy just wants to be your average, happy, vanilla eighth grader. But with Shakespearean scholar parents who dress in Elizabethan regalia and generally go about in public as if it were the sixteenth century, that’s not terribly easy. It gets worse when they decide that Hamlet’s genius seven year-old sister will attend middle school with her— and even worse when the Shakespeare project is announced and her sister is named the new math tutor. By the time an in-class recitation reveals that our heroine is an extraordinary Shakespearean actress, Hamlet can no longer hide from the fact that she—like her family—is anything but average. In a novel every bit as funny as her debut, Erin Dionne has created another eighth grader whose situation is utterly unique—but whose foibles and farces will resound with every girl currently suffering through middle school.
(304 pages)

I've loved this book for years, since I myself was actually Hamlet's age. I always thought it was so amazingly funny, so clever and sweet and perfect.

Now that I'm older (and have actually read Hamlet), I find it a lot less amazing.

For one thing, a lot of the Shakespeare quotes seem to be taken entirely out of context. Her literary parents of all people should know better than to take random quotes from the plays and use them in everyday life; if they've read the plays, they know that the popular quotes people use from the plays aren't always used in ways that make any sense if you know the scenes they're pulled from. Another problem I have also connected to believability (not even bringing her genius little sister into the conversation) is this idea that Hamlet's family can really revolve so entirely around Shakespeare, and yet she's still kind of shaky on some of the plays. Also, there's no such thing as being a "natural Shakespearean actress." The book treats it like Hamlet was born with this magical ability, but I'd say her ability to read Shakespearean rhyme in rhythm probably has a lot more to do with her parents reading the plays to her when she was little and constantly speaking like they live during the Elizabethan era than it does with her own special little genius.

Anyway, I don't mean to be so negative. This is still a very cute book, the sort of novel that you read when you're twelve and think is just perfect. I shouldn't knock it too much now that I'm out of the target audience, because I truly did adore it once upon a time. I even recommend it to you, if you like a good MG school-drama and are willing to step into the ever-imaginative brain of a twelve-year-old girl.

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