July 23, 2012

Review: Falling for Hamlet

I am always looking for novels to bring into pieces that I teach. I feel that it gives the piece credibility that extends past the author's own words. It's as if I can say to students, "Well, you may not think this piece is important, but let me introduce you to others who would disagree..." I especially love it when novels I introduce are YA novels because they speak my students' language.

This is why I had to buy and read this novel. I had to find other ways to connect Shakespeare to modern times, to prove to my students he is not antiquated nor are his ideas. He lives on...even in the world of YA lit. 

Summary (from Goodreads):

Meet Ophelia: a blonde, beautiful high-school senior and long-time girlfriend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Her life is dominated not only by her boyfriend's fame and his overbearing family, but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go. As the devastatingly handsome Hamlet spirals into madness after the mysterious death of his father, the King, Ophelia rides out his crazy roller coaster life, and lives to tell about it. In live television interviews, of course.

Passion, romance, drama, humor, and tragedy intertwine in this compulsively readable debut novel, told by a strong-willed, modern-day Ophelia.

My Thoughts:

Author Michelle Ray brings Hamlet into the twenty-first century, rife with all the modern “drama” that can be seen on television.

But this book is not a focus of Hamlet or his characterization.

Enter Ophelia, whose father is a loyal worker to the Hamlet household and whose brother is a college student full of warnings. But when King Hamlet suddenly dies, the household falls into a spiral, taking everyone living there down with it, including Ophelia – with exception, it seems, to the King’s brother and Ophelia’s father.

While Hamlet struggles to find the truth of his father’s death, readers of the famous play will recognize sprinkled elements of the original, almost a wink to the audience that Hamlet is not forgotten; however, the star is Ophelia, and it shines bright on her relationship with Hamlet, her father, the royal household, her friends.

The novel is not plot-driven but character-driven. Readers must first invest in Ophelia as a character in order to buy into the plot. I not only bought into Ophelia but also all the minor characters as well. I feel the author brought Shakespeare’s most popular play into modern times in an authentic way.

The characterization of each character matches that of Shakespeare’s, and there are clever additions that answer questions that my students always ask while reading the play.
  • Where is Ophelia’s mother?
  • What kind of relationship does Ophelia and Hamlet really have?
  • How close is Ophelia to her father and her brother?
  • What role does Polonius play in the Royal household?
These holes are skillfully filled throughout the novel, allowing me to bring up Ray’s ideas to my own students when these questions arise during the reading of the play.

But…I do have a complaint.

For me, I found the opening and closing of each chapter to be a distraction from the storytelling itself. The novel would have been stronger without the talk show antics and police interrogation. After quite a few chapters I found myself skipping them completely, and by novel’s end I did not feel as if I had missed out on anything.  

While reading this novel, I could not help but notice parallels between Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship and that of Kate Middleton and Prince William (while they were dating). There were a lot of similarities, and it is clear that the Royal couple is where she drew inspiration. After all, if you are going to bring characters like Ophelia and Hamlet into modern society, what better way than through Kate and William?

While this is an interesting and authentic update to Shakespeare’s tale, it does not live up to Klein’s Ophelia. I am sure that others have made the same comparison. The two novels are presented in different ways and serve two different purposes. If you have read Klein’s Ophelia, do not miss out on this novel. While it may not live up to Klein’s novel, it is still a strong re-telling.

Hooray for having two YA novels to introduce to students when teaching Hamlet! At the conclusion of teaching the play, I plan to book talk both novels to my students.

Have you read either novel? What are your thoughts?

Do you have a YA novel that you use when introducing/teaching classical literature to students? Share your title(s) in the comment section.

Happy Reading!


  1. AnonymousJuly 25, 2012

    I don't really have an intro to Hamlet, but we watch clips of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, with a suggestive reading of Gertrude and Claudius - the "somewhat" prequel to Hamlet written by John Updike. It gets into Scandinavian folklore, and how the two are inextricably bound to the rules of marriage and time, and how they escape them. Claudius is awesome in this, which obviously contradicts his persona in the play, but I think Updike was tapping into Claudius' ways of old, and how he lost it along the way for power. Very short, but dense book, if you struggle with myth and legend.


    1. Oh yes, I'm very familiar with Updike's piece, and I LOVED it! I will bring it in as well - and for those of you who teach Hamlet and have not read it, you need to get on it ASAP. It will ROCK your world.

      Okay, it may not actually rock it, but it will change the way you read/teach Hamlet the next time.

      Happy reading!



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