You know you're getting to the end of one of Shakespeare's tragedies when the bodies start piling up, and Othello is a typical example. But what happens when the characters become 6th graders and the drama takes place on the playground, instead of a military barracks? That’s the question anyone who has read Othello will be asking themselves as they open New Boy. Surely the ground won’t be littered with 6th graders?! Or will it… Tracy Chevalier is a masterful writer and the reader is left guessing until the very end, and beyond.
She takes Shakespeare’s play about racism and jealousy in the Venetian army of the late-16th century and sets it on an elementary school playground in the late 1970s. The time period makes the racism much more pronounced, whereas in Othello, jealousy seemed more in the forefront, although racism definitely played a part. Chevalier’s main character becomes Osei (“O”), a Ghanaian diplomat’s son, starting his 5th new school in 6 years. He immediately hits it off with Dee, one of the most popular girls in the school. To the shock and dismay of their classmates and teachers, their romance blossoms almost immediately.
Enter Ian, who, unlike Iago, is a known playground bully. He doesn’t exactly want Dee as his own girlfriend, but he certainly doesn’t want this black newcomer to have her either. So he manipulates a similar cast of characters as in the play to drive O and Dee apart (Desdemona’s handkerchief is replaced with a pencil case embossed with strawberries) and the plot follows similar lines to the play.
Like Othello, the action in New Boy is very compressed, happening all in a single day, giving the reader a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Unlike Othello, where Desdemona is the outsider in a military setting, in New Boy, O is the outsider, being literally the new boy in school. There are many other minor differences and similarities to the play, with the result being that anyone who’s read Othello will clearly see the play in the story, but the book is able to stand on its own, without having to rely on being a “retelling”.
Putney by Sofka Zinovieff (similar theme)
Hogarth Series (Shakespeare Retellings)
Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library
The Winters by Lisa Gabriele
Have you read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? Don’t worry, it’s not a prerequisite. Besides, there’s a new Rebekah in town. Is she the unnamed protagonist of the story? Read and find out. Set on an exclusive island off Long Island near the luxurious Hamptons; a young woman, her fiancé and his daughter struggle with buried secrets, past lives, and unavoidable consequences.
The unnamed narrator arrives to Asherley; an opulent, secluded mansion; with her new, wealthy, politically charged, recently widowed fiancé. Never knowing luxury before, meeting Max Winters, was a fluke at best for this sunburned Cayman Island native. But living at Asherley, full of its memories of the first Mrs. Winters, and Max’s teenage daughter, Dani, sulking around the grounds angry and resentful; not only poses uncertainties about the estate’s secrets, but of the relationship between the future Mrs. Winters and Max Winters.
What do you do when the happiness you thought only existed in fairytales, becomes your life and there is a force determined to make it all come crashing down?
Full of a lot of detail and foreshadowing, The Winters is good, but not amazing. It’s worth the read if you haven’t read the classic Rebecca or if you have and don’t mind a loose, modernized “retelling” of an old favorite.
I wouldn’t say The Winters is a suspenseful read. Certainly, the psychological aspect is there, but not as significant as expected. I knew what was going to happen. I could anticipate the action; due to good writing and a well set up structure, I suppose.
Was the book as dark and ominous, as a psychological thriller intends, no, not really. But the encircling and tiptoeing of characters around one another added a creepy factor without pushing you over the edge. In more than a few spots I wondered who the crazy was in the story, which added mystery. I was pulled along, sometimes lulled by the writing, but in the end, there was no jolt, gasp, or frantic frenzy of trying to figure out how it all happened. Throughout the book I found myself screaming in my mind “NO!”, because I already knew the outcome and was just waiting for the story to prove me right.
I suggest going into reading The Winters with an open mind. Though I finished it and liked it enough to do so, it didn’t move me. I didn’t ask questions throughout it. I simply read it for the pleasure of reading, which is never a bad thing. Overall, I would give the book three stars. It was entertaining when not comparing it to its retelling.
Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
Alena by Rachel Pastan
Jocelyn Kaleita, Brookhaven Free Library
Hyde by Daniel Levine
Hyde is a 2014 retelling of Robert Lewis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson tells his classic story through a rotating third-person narrative; major characters Henry Jekyll, Edward Hyde, Gabriel John Utterson, and Poole are shown to be unique individuals invested in the horrific changes occurring among themselves, while Levine's novel begins as a dual first-person narrative - equal explanation is given to both Jekyll and Hyde's thoughts, experiences, and memories. As the story progresses and Hyde begins to dominate Jekyll's personality and respectable 19th-century London life, so too Hyde begins to dominate Levine's narrative. By the end of the book, Hyde is the sole narrator, narrating his suicide. The book takes place over four days and is an engaging retelling and adaptation.
I believe I would have enjoyed Hyde more if I were not previously familiar with the original story. I found Levine's story confusing and overly complicated. There were several characters I felt were not properly introduced, the period language felt inauthentic, and the buildup to Hyde's death was not nearly as grandly theatrical as Stevenson made it. This book is a good pick for patrons seeking quick gothic and historical thrillers, but I would not recommend it to fans of the original Strange Case or those seeking easy reads.
The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd
Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty
Wendy Ambrozewicz, Patchogue-Medford Library
A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Seventeen-year-old Cat Morland, the daughter of a vicar living in the English countryside, is offered the opportunity to travel to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with her wealthy neighbors, the Allens. (“The Fringe” is the world’s largest arts festival, lasting nearly a month. In 2018, it featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different shows.) Mr. Allen is a successful investor in London theater, and easygoing Cat will be company for his wife, Susie.
In Edinburgh, Cat meets Bella Thorpe and her brother Johnny, who, it turns out, are friends of Cat’s older brother, James. When James turns up, Cat is struck by the growing romantic relationship between James and Bella, and finds herself too often in the company of Bella’s brother, an irritating blowhard. She is thrilled to meet the Tilneys: the handsome, intelligent Henry and his charming younger sister, Ellie. An invitation to the Tilneys’ vast historic estate, Northanger Abbey, follows. Cat, an avid reader of horror novels, is excited to discover the secrets she is certain the Abbey conceals and to spend as much time as possible with Henry.
The novel is a witty romance that will appeal to readers who enjoyed Jane Austen’s original and are curious about how the story translates to the 21st century. It would also be appropriate for young adults unfamiliar with the original. The setting is clever and the conniving Thorpes are remarkably similar to Austen’s characters. However, Cat, though she has been home-schooled and lived a sheltered life, is a little too naïve and fanciful for a girl her age. A subplot that has Cat wondering if the Tilneys might be vampires is sometimes treated as a joke, but occasionally as something Cat truly believes.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
By the Book by Julia Sonneborn
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe by Madeline Miller is an exciting retelling of Greek legends and lore. Circe, daughter of the mighty God Helios is a strange girl and seems to be born without any particular powers unlike her brothers and sisters.
Repeatedly shunned from her powerful father and manipulative mother, Circe turns to mortals for friendship and companionship. She soon realizes that she possesses the power of witchcraft and uses it to transform lovers and rivals into their true selves. After one such transformation she is banished to the deserted island of Aiaia by her father and Zeus.
During her time there, she is visited by many well-known figures known in mythology such as the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, the dangerous Medea, and the persuasive Odysseus.
Spending year after year alone on an island, cultivating her herbs and potions, Circe welcomes the god Hermes, whose visits are full of news. He is a pleasant distraction for Circe, but even that grows wearisome.
Finally, Circe must choose between living a life with mortals or with the gods that made her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’ve always been fond of mythology so this was a pleasant trip down memory lane. Madeline Miller does a fine job telling this exciting story using just the right amount of poetic prose. The characters are vivid especially the articulate and cunning Odysseus, who Circe falls in love with. This retelling seems to bring home the point that whether we are gods or just ordinary people we all will experience the joys and sadness that life has to offer. The story of Circe reminds us to stay strong and constant for all things do pass with time.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin
House of Names by Colm Toibin
Karen Cognato, Harborfields Public Library
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Boy, Snow, Bird is a modern retelling of Snow White. It centers around Boy Novak, a twenty-something young woman from New York who can’t keep from noticing her reflection whenever she sees it. Growing up without a mother she knows nothing about, Boy flees to Massachusetts to escape her abusive father who catches rats for a living. While in Massachusetts, Boy tries to find her way by meeting new people and working several different jobs, hoping that the rat catcher will never find her. She begins dating a widower named Arturo Whitman who has a daughter named Snow. Everyone loves Snow and constantly dote on her. Over time, Boy and Arturo marry and have a child they name Bird. When Bird is born, she is noticeably African American, and her birth exposes the Whitman family, who have been passing as white for years. Because the story is set in the early 1950s, Boy is met with criticism and hate for having a black child. Boy begins to resent how much everyone loves her stepdaughter Snow instead of her baby daughter Bird, so Boy sends Snow away to live with other family members. As Bird grows up, she becomes more curious about her sister Snow who she doesn’t remember. She begins to correspond with Snow through letters and they become very close without ever meeting, especially over the fact that both girls don’t see their reflections when they look into mirrors. When Snow finally comes home for Thanksgiving, tensions run high among the Whitman family as the issues of race and vanity finally come up, as well as between Boy and Snow as they meet for the first time in years. As Boy’s father comes to find her all these years later, Boy finds out where she actually came from.
This story is character driven with a fast almost magical pace. It is told in separate parts between Boy and her daughter Bird’s point of view. Snow’s voice is also evident as she writes letters to Bird. The setting of 1950s and 1960s Massachusetts still has an air of being racially intolerant as witnessed by the Whitman’s matriarch trying to give Bird away to her darker-skinned aunt, along with bullying at Bird’s school. While the setting of Massachusetts is discussed, the story tells more about what was happening culturally at the time. I think this story would appeal to readers of fiction who enjoy fairy tales, as well as readers who enjoy thought-provoking stories.
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
Jessica Brown, Patchogue-Medford Library
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a modern-day reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the fourth book in the Austen Project, a series that couples contemporary novelists with Jane Austen’s novels.
Liz is a magazine writer in her thirties living in New York City. She is clever and responsible, the most insightful member of the generally hopeless Bennett family. Her older sister Jane is a 40-ish yoga instructor who also lives in the City. They return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help out after their father has heart surgery. Once there, they find that the sprawling Tudor house they grew up in is falling apart just like their family.
Mrs. Bennett’s snobbery and self-pity are intact, but in this retelling, she is also a lover of trash television. Her current preoccupations include an addiction to a reality show called “Eligible,” featuring hunky bachelors.
Mr. Darcy has evolved into a pompous neurosurgeon. In one of the classic scenes in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth that he loves her while also listing the reasons he shouldn’t marry her. In Eligible, Darcy is even more insensitive: “You’re not beautiful, and you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he says to Liz. “Sorry,” Liz replies, “but I still consider you a jackass.”
Sittenfeld, according to the New York Times reviewer, excels in her “clear, clean writing… in her general amusement about the world, her observations about behavior, character and motivation.” A witty, enjoyable read for women and men of all ages.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Grace O'Connor, Retired, West Islip Public Library
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Always in trouble at home, always in trouble at work, Kate Battista is an incorrigible pre-school assistant that has strong opinions on everything—this is Anne Tyler’s version of Shakespeare’s “shrew.” Kate’s father, a scientist doing self-aggrandized research, asks her to marry his assistant to avoid his deportation due to an expiring visa. Kate resists with every bone in her body. The two men conspire and work on Kate with pre-planned encounters and staged shenanigans until she eventually softens and seems to realize that marrying could actually give her a freedom that she has never known before.
This re-telling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by Pulitzer Prize winning Anne Tyler (author of The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, A Spool of Blue Thread, et al.) is a light-hearted, easy read that can be devoured in one sitting. It’s not a deep or complex novel, but sometimes an effortless read is all that is required to satisfy. This is a softer version of the work by Shakespeare, which was not his most popular or well-received. Fans of Tyler’s other works may be disappointed. Tyler admits that she hates Shakespeare—and The Taming of the Shrew most of all—but she accepted the challenge to contribute to a series of re-tellings of the bard’s works. If you’re looking for a light read that is not too demanding, nor time consuming, this may be the book for you.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (The Tempest)
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson (The Merchant of Venice)
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (The Winter's Tale)
Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library
Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler
Eleanor Sutton Abbott receives a call from her aunt’s friend Gwen telling her that her aunt Alice is dying and would like to see her; on the same night Eleanor finds out some disturbing news about her boyfriend Miles. At first Eleanor isn’t sure what to do. Her clothing business in New York is just taking off and things with Miles are at a crossroads, but she’s drawn to her aunt Alice who lives in England. Even though Eleanor hasn’t seen her since she was a little girl, Alice is the only family she has left. Wanting to know more about her mother, Alice’s younger sister, and her family, Eleanor makes the journey to the Moors of England and the house she will inherit once her aunt passes on. It is at Trent House that Eleanor learns about her family, her legacy, and who she really is as a person. She also meets Meadowscarp (Mead), an orphan that her aunt took in after his mother died and his father couldn’t raise him. As Eleanor speaks to ghosts, including Emily Bronte, explores Trent House, and discovers the secrets of her past, she must make the decision on whether to go back to New York and her old life with Miles or to stay in England and take a chance on a new life with Mead.
Inspired by the classic novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Solsbury Hill has the same atmosphere found in the original without the drama and angst. Although the setting is the same and parallels can be drawn between the orphans Heathcliff and Mead and other parts of the novel, most of the story is about how Eleanor is a descendant of Emily Bronte and is trying to break the curse that has plagued the women in her family – choosing the wrong man to love when two options are available – as well as trying to find out about her heritage and hopefully find herself in the process. Both Miles and Mead are much nicer than their counterparts in Wuthering Heights and Eleanor doesn’t bring any of the drama that Catherine surrounds herself in. The story is a romance, without the timeless quality of the original, wrapped up with a happy ending. Give this to women looking for a quick, beach read or general romance rather than someone looking for a continuation of their favorite classic.
Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case
The Lost Child by Carol Phillips
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library