For some reason, I’ve been on a YA reading kick the last few weeks. Maybe it’s a desire to pad the stats in the “books read” list for the year or maybe it’s a desire to return to a “simpler” time in my life when all I had to worry about was doing well in school and trying to get members of the opposite sex to notice me.
Or it could be that there are a lot of really well written young adult novels coming out these days and I find myself wishing they (or novels like them) had been around for me to read in my formative teen year. Of course, that would have meant putting down the tie-in Doctor Who and Star Trek novels.
Jake Winzer’s Spanking Shakespeare is one of those books that I wish had come out when I was younger. Heading into his senior year, Shakespeare Shapiro has a couple of goals–get into a good college, finish his year-long senior writing project and maybe landing his first girlfriend. Over the course of the novel, Shakespeare will succeed and fail at each of these goals, often times with humorous results.
Spanking Shakespeare is one of the those books that I fully expect to land on the banned book list at some point in the future. Shakespeare (yes, that’s actually the name of our first-person narrator) speaks like an authentic teenage boy–with all the foibles, obsessions and thoughts of one. There’s a lot of dark, twisted humor in these pages (some of Shakespeare’s essays that he writes are hysterically funny and equally dark at the same time) and there’s a lot of time spent thinking about the one thing that is on all teenage boys’ minds–girls.
The first half of the novel has some wittily observed moments and moves along at a good clip. However, it’s one the novel reaches the halfway point that things take a more serious turn and the novel loses some of its momentum. Shakespeare’s connection with his classmate Charlotte and his eventual discovery of the nature of her home life and situation gives the novel a bit of a serious issue to work through and the second half of the books feels radically different from the first half. It’s also a shame that Shakespeare’s essays and asides begin to wear thin once the Charlotte plotline kicks into high gear in the second half.
And while the novel makes a bit of a comeback in the final pages, the contrast is still enough that it left me feeling a bit perplexed about the novel as a whole. However, the more I reflected on the book, the more I think that Jake Wizner is trying to have the story reflect how life can be for teenagers–ups, downs, funny, dark and serious all over the course of a year.
When Spanking Shakespeare is on its game, it’s an absolutely delightful book.