Book Review: The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life

Dani Jansen

Rating: 1 out of 5.

published: 22nd September 2020
spoilers? yup


Alison Green, desperate valedictorian-wannabe, agrees to produce her school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s her first big mistake. The second is accidentally saying Yes to a date with her oldest friend, Jack, even though she’s crushing on Charlotte. Alison manages to stay positive, even when her best friend starts referring to the play as “Ye Olde Shakespearean Disaster.” Alison must cope with the misadventures that befall the play if she’s going to survive the year. She’ll also have to grapple with what it means to be “out” and what she might be willing to give up for love.

Galley provided by publisher

I started a tally reading this book, and it went like so:

Times failed to use the word lesbian: 13

Times the word lesbian is used, but not by the MC to refer to herself: 3

Times the MC uses the word lesbian about herself: 3

Because I have read way too many YA books which refuse to use the word lesbian at this point to have any sort of patience, to be quite honest. And, with 3 of the 19 mentions of the word, this book is actually doing way better than a lot of them.

But not enough that I wasn’t frustrated by it.

See, I know that in real life, people choose to use/not use particular labels however they wish. But, in fiction, the almost complete absence of the use of lesbian (especially compared to other labels), speaks such volumes. The use of a particular label in a positive context is going to help people who might not feel okay just yet about their identity. I mean, part of the reason they might not feel okay is a society that tells them “lesbian” is a dirty word, so continued use of that word in a positive context is only doing good things.

And like I said, this book didn’t do terribly on that – at least not as bad as I’ve seen – but I still want to see more characters who claim the word lesbian and claim it proudly. Who use it over and above every other term they could use. And that’s what this book didn’t give me.

But that wasn’t all the problems I had. It also very distinctly propounds an idea about being out and coming out that I hated. Namely, that you can’t be with someone if you’re not out. And that being out to a single person somehow “isn’t enough”.

Let me take the former to begin with. In two cases in this book, a character wants their love interest to be “more out” if they are to continue being together. Because they have this idea that not being out equates to shame. With the MC, it comes along the lines of being pressured to be “more out” by her girlfriend, which she goes along with easily enough, but I don’t know how to make it more clear that it is not being a good partner to pressure someone in this way. With the gay side character, who is closeted and self-hating and spends his time being openly misogynistic to put people off guessing he is gay, it’s the classic case of his boyfriend breaks up with him, because he’s not out, because it feels like shame. And sure, I guess there’s a story to be had there, but I think it’s one that involves a lot more introspection and time, and doesn’t end up being this character being pressured into coming out to everyone in a very public way, just for this guy. (Not to mention, if he really is so closeted, I doubt it would be so easy. I mean, struggling against something you’ve internalised is really fucking hard.)

The second part of the problem was when, having come out to her best friend, said best friend goes on to insist she comes out to her parents. Said straight best friend. Surely you see how bad this is, surely I do not need to explain it. No one decides when you come out but you. Absofuckinglutely no one. And this book does not just have one person decide when someone comes out, but three. While passing zero judgement on it.

So sorry if I lack patience for the rest of the damn thing.

As for the remainder of the book, there were two things that irritated me the most. Firstly, that the MC is so pretentious and just doesn’t really feel like a teenager because of it. I know, I know, it was a facet of her personality, and I really think it wouldn’t have bugged me quite so much if it weren’t for the above issues, but. It did.

And then there was the fact that they had one argument and then “broke up”. But they’re teens. They’re going to be melodramatic.

Though the theatre mafia did give me a good laugh.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life

  1. I so agree!! Everything about this.

    Plus I found all the characters super underdeveloped. None of them had hobbies or quirks or anything to distinguish them. Because of it the romance fell flat for me.

    Also, I agree with the last comment about the break up being melodramatic. I *am* a teen and I had to roll my eyes. No one ever said “we’re breaking up” or anything besides just getting mildly snappy.

    Liked by 1 person

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