The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen


ARC was provided by NetGalley and Second Story Press in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 22nd, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Anxiety, minor manipulation, racism, toxic masculinity, internalized homophobia, cultural insensitivity (from the teacher)

Oh jeez, friends… I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book more than what I did, I really do. I have sat on my feelings about this book for a couple of days and I still feel conflicted with this book. Let me start by saying, I love a good retelling and I love, love the fact that this is a retelling of one of my favorite plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I mean, who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare retelling especially of one of the plays that often gets overlooked? But friends, let’s dive into this review and then you’ll understand what I mean.

β€œπ‘»π’‰π’Šπ’π’ˆπ’” π’˜π’π’ 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒏𝒆; π’‹π’π’šβ€™π’” 𝒔𝒐𝒖𝒍 π’π’Šπ’†π’” π’Šπ’ 𝒕𝒉𝒆 π’…π’π’Šπ’π’ˆ.”

– π‘Ύπ’Šπ’π’π’Šπ’‚π’Ž π‘Ίπ’‰π’‚π’Œπ’†π’”π’‘π’†π’‚π’“π’†

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life follows our main character Allison, who desperately wants to end her high school year as Valedictorian. And sometimes when you wish so badly for something, you get roped into co-producing the school’s play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Along the way she’ll learn how to balance the show, battle the never ending school working, being a friend to her friends, and possibly find a romance along away that she might not be ready for.

For starters, I love the representation that’s in this book. I haven’t seen many readers talk about this, but there’s a good chunk of diversity within this book. Our main character Allison is lesbian which also leads to our main sapphic romance for this book. We also have a pansexual side and we have a male male side relationship, as well. Plus, there’s a Korean-American side character and a Moroccan side character too. I wish there had been just a little more diversity, but overall I think many reader’s will appreciate the representation in this book. A side note, there’s a male corgi featured in this book and his name is Princess Sunshine!

I also have to talk about family dynamics for a second. Allison’s parents are the cutest thing! You all know I’m a sucker for family dynamics and the way family dynamics happen in books. So the fact that Allison’s parents are so nice and open minded really warmed my heart. I really appreciate seeing open minded parents in books especially since far too often do I find books where there’s a parent or parent that has issues with their children coming out to them. And I think it’s so important to show the the positive along with the bad. So I really loved seeing that in this book.

Also, I really loved the newfound family and the way the author shows the importance of friendship throughout this book. This is a dynamic that I really love and I wish books did the found family more often. What I love most about this is the overall setting because I truly believe plays and projects can really bring people closer together. So seeing that in this book and the fact that this book concluded with the found family, it really warmed my heart.

β€œIf you’re going to do a Shakespeare play, it may as well be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, right? I mean, all those crazy love triangles have got to keep the audience interested. She loves him, but he loves her, and they all end up in the woods together with some fairies! The story may be weird, but it’s not boring.”

However, despite all the good thing this book offers, there were a few issues that I couldn’t look past. For starters, the main character is supposed to be lesbian and while I know in the real world, no has to use a label if they don’t want to. However, I feel like it would have been more beneficial if the main character actually referred to themselves as lesbian more than the three times that I actually saw them referencing themselves as a lesbian. A speaking of representation, I wasn’t a fan of the stereotype used for the one character. Using the stereotype of the womanizer for a character only for them to turn out to be a closeted gay just wasn’t something I’m a fan of especially the way the sexuality was used as a plot device. And there’s also the fact that this character put the openly gay character through absolute hell. All of this felt like a set back of YA to about five-six years ago.

I also had an issue with the the relationship between Allison and Charlotte. Right of the back we’re given instant “she’s not like other girls” vibes and that is one of the tropes that I’m not the biggest fan of. There was also so much idolization from Allison and how she viewed Charlotte that it was hard to read through at times. We also have the fact that these two characters barely interact and the few times that we do get them interacting, it’s mostly through texting. Also, they only go on one date, very instantly lovey vibes, and at some point they have this big fight which felt forced, unnatural, and very unbelievable. And I say this statement because there was hardly any build up that would make us suspect a fight was coming. It got to a point where I just didn’t care about them anymore. I found myself more interested in the side characters or how the book would conclude than what would happen with these two characters.

And I have to mention how I wasn’t a fan of how self-destructive Allison’s character was throughout this book. There are countless moments where she pushed away the people who care about her and then acts shock when those loved ones are mad, upset, or hurt by her. And while I love what rom-coms usually do, the execution of things is what I pay attention to and this wasn’t it. The amount of selfishness and self-destructive behavior was so overwhelming that it impacted my mood while reading. It also felt like it dragged the plot into a more negative mood. Not to mention all of this paints Allison in a negative light that can make a reader dislike her or not feel any connection to her character at all.

Overall, this book had a lot of good and a lot of bad. There were things I loved and thing I wished were given more time to be developed or flushed out a little better. I recognize that this is a debut novel by this author so I hope my critique of this book was fair and highlights everything, both good and bad. I think many readers who love retellings and rom-coms will enjoy this book. And if sounds like a book that might be down your reading genre, I definitely recommend giving it a try!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.


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