The Juliet Club

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The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
Published in 2008 by Greenwillow Books

Since I adore the film Letters to Juliet, I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it. I was really hoping that the plot lines weren’t too similar, and I was not disappointed.

The Juliet Club is about no nonsense, recently heartbroken Kate Sanderson, the daughter of divorced lawyer (mom) and Shakespeare scholar (dad). When she wins a Shakespeare essay contest, a trip to study Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy is her prize. Since her dad is a known scholar, he, too, is attending the seminar, which just happens to be hosted by his archrival, Professoressa Marchese. When they arrive, Kate meets her rival, Giacomo, who just happens to be the son of Professoressa Marchese. But there are no thoughts of being star-crossed lovers in Kate’s mind, who has recently vowed to never waste her time on love again.

Kate discovers that some of the other students are planning to pull a Much Ado About Nothing stunt on herself and Giacomo, but the pair decides to turn the tables. They pretend to be falling in love as they study Shakespeare, answer letters as “Juliet,” and prepare to perform the famous balcony scene, but Kate will soon discover that her stand on never loving again may be starting to waver.

I really enjoyed reading this! The language use is very minimal (less than 5 instances), and it is very clean. I didn’t know that Much Ado About Nothing plays such a major role in the plot line, but I am so glad that it does since MAAN is my favorite Shakespeare play! I loved how the characters would quote Shakespeare to each other and loved it even more when I knew which play was being quoted. (English major, remember? So, of course, I took a course on Shakespeare.) This novel further fueled my desire to go to Italy and visit “Juliet’s house” (one of my friends is over there right now—jealous!) I picked this up at my local used bookstore, but you can find it on Amazon for less than $6 right now.

If you are interested in finding out more about the actual Juliet Club, visit their website at julietclub.com/en/. You can actually write a letter to “Juliet” and receive a reply. (Yes, I’m probably going to do this!)

The Shakespeare Stealer

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The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Published in 2000 by Puffin Books

I’ve been having trouble finding a book I enjoy lately. I start a book and am disenchanted after just a few pages. Not a good sign. This was not the case with The Shakespeare Stealer (which I think would have sounded better as “The Shakespeare Thief,” but that’s just me).

This work of historical fiction tells the story of a young boy, Widge, who is an orphan living in Elizabethan England. He is apprenticed and taught how to write in shorthand by Dr. Bright, who developed modern shorthand. A stranger arrives one day to purchase Widge’s apprenticeship from Dr. Bright in order to, as the title states, steal from Shakespeare. Widge learns that his new master, Simon Bass, expects him to attend the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a new play by Shakespeare that has yet to be printed (therefore, not easily performed by other theatre troupes). Unable to record the entire play in one setting, Widge ends up joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to steal the play book. In the end, Widge must decide which is more important: stealing the play and obeying his master, or finding freedom, a family, and a home with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

I really like how this book shows some of the history of shorthand. Seeing as kids aren’t even taught cursive anymore, I’m sure they have no idea what shorthand is (and there are even examples of it!) Even though Widge’s naivety can be a little annoying, he is still a child, so that is to be expected. This book has several twists. Without giving anything away, let me just say that there is a plot twist that I figured would be used, but I was shocked at the reveal. I will definitely be rereading to see if I can spot the clues sooner.

So, I really enjoyed this book! It is a short read that kept my attention the whole time, even though it is meant for ages 10 to 14. I think 10 is a little young, not content-wise but for understanding who Shakespeare was and the time in which he lived. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (unless it is Jane Austen related), but I was impressed with this work. I enjoyed seeing how Widge’s accent changes overtime as he goes from speaking in his Yorkshire accent and dialect to that of a Londoner. There is some language, which also makes me question the intended audience, but the words didn’t necessarily mean then what they do now, so I understand WHY Blackwood employs them (historical accuracy) but wish that he hadn’t (contemporary meaning and audience).

I’m really shocked that a movie version hasn’t been made, but I will certainly watch it if one is!