Oh my stars. This book! It caused me such a serious book hangover, I've been finished reading it for DAYS and haven't yet quite figured out how to talk about it. But I'll do my best.
First off, thank you SO MUCH to Kara from Flowers of Quiet Happiness! She insisted I read this book because she thought I would loooooooooooooove it. How right she was! You can read her review here.
So basically, this is a YA retelling of Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. Set in the Prohibition Era just outside New York City. But it's much more than just a transportation of the characters to a new setting. It takes the basic premise of the play -- can two people who verbally spar and butt heads be convinced to fall in love? -- and runs with it.
Beatrice here is a strong-willed, strong-minded young woman who wants to become a doctor even though her stepfather thinks higher learning for women is a waste of time and refuses to fund her college education. Benedick is a rich boy whose father would love to pay for him to go to college, but Benedick wants to be a writer and thinks an education is a waste of time.
Beatrice gets kicked out of school and winds up at her cousin Hero's home, hoping her uncle and cousin will take her in. She doesn't know it until she gets there, but they run a speakeasy called Hey Nonny Nonny in their basement. Benedick is living in their house too, having run away from school with his friend Claude because... they can.
Then there's Maggie, a jazz singer and Hero's dear friend who provides the entertainment for the speakeasy. And there's Prince, who tends bar for Hey Nonny Nonny, and his brother John, who is... not a Good Guy, but still a good person deep inside. John ties with Beatrice for my favorite character, I think.
Claude and Hero get all infatuated with each other. Federal agents try to close down the speakeasy. Hero and Maggie try to convince Beatrice and Benedick they love each other even though they spend basically every waking moment annoying and being annoyed by each other.
And if that sounds kind a fluffy and not really the sort of thing I read... trust me, this book is deeper than I'm making it sound. It's got all kinds of stuff about race and class differences and ethics, not to mention some Very Wonderful character explorations. And then there's the writing! Snappy, insightful, witty, and profound by turns. I bought my own copy of this book already, that's how much I loved it. I couldn't be without it. I'm quite sure I'll be re-reading it soon.
Particularly Good Bits:
Leonard Stahr had replied: “I first met my late wife marching at the head of a women’s suffragette parade. So I must say, with respect to your position, that I have a deep fondness for rioting women, and you could not have made my niece more appealing to me if she came adorned with a cash prize” (p. 25-26).
Perhaps she didn’t know she was the sort of presence that required slow digestion at first. Her stare was direct -- channeled through absurdly big eyes, the kind a more inclined man might trip and drown in, if he weren’t watching his step -- but she was not exceptionally pretty. She was just aggressively there (p. 43).
“Whatever compels you to think I care to hear your opinion on my actions, kindly locate that inner switch and turn it off” (p. 64).
She was like… weather maybe? Instead of a person? (p. 105).
She was not surprised that she was once again trying to figure out how to be herself when herself was more than anyone wanted, but she was disappointed (p. 193).
Obviously friendly was too high a word for what they’d been, but she’d enjoyed, well, not him exactly but the challenge of him. The pleasing clang of their minds butting together (p. 194).
A brisk knock interrupted their conversation, followed by Beatrice. Benedick’s morning righted itself in time to her stride (p. 306).
Claude had decided to take his broken heart and return to the Vanderbilts, who would welcome him with open arms and crustless sandwiches and suntans (p. 325).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some violence, lots of alcohol consumption, some innuendo (kissing and some mildly suggestive dialog), and bad language.