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The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen

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The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life: 03/09/21

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen is another queer romance framed around a school production of a Shakespeare play. Alison Green has been given the daunting task of producing her school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream knowing full well that the theater teacher is difficult to work with. Soon her friends are teasing her for taking on "ye olde Shakespearian disaster."

One potentially good thing to come out of the ordeal is meeting Charlotte. There's an instant chemistry and soon she's crowding out thoughts of homework and other tasks towards Al's goal of becoming valedictorian. Romance blossoms but threatens not only her chances at being the top of her class, but her overall GPA. Al needs to learn how to manage her time between schoolwork, romance, the play, and fun.

Working with a varied group of students on the play also makes Al realize she's not as out as she thinks she is. She also has to face the reality that others might be closeted and gaydar isn't a thing (certainly not one she has). Other reviewers have commented on Al's refusal to use the word lesbian to describe herself. I took her lack of a vocabulary as part of her explorations of her options and coming to terms with her sexuality, rather than as an automatic negative.

This book has a similar narrative feel to As Far as You'll Take Me by Phil Stamper (2020). Both focus on the minutiae of serious creative endeavors — although Marty is more advanced in his craft than Al is. Both include internal emotional struggles as well as older friendships and new relationships being threatened by self growth. Here, Alison is better off in that she's not suffering from anxiety and she has a more supportive home and school environment.

What kept me from enjoying The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life was the pacing. There was so much time spent on the play that other plot threads didn't get the pages they might have needed. Even as a former theater kid I felt like the play's production was happening in real time — over weeks and months — rather than the 295 pages of the book.

Four stars

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