The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life | Dani Jansen


The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen

Second Story Press, 2020, 304 pages

Trigger Warnings: Mention of homophobic parent

About the Author: “Dani Jansen is an English and drama teacher who lives in Montreal. She performed (as a teacher) in her school’s glee show for eight years. Yes, there is probably video evidence of this. No, she will not point you in the direction of where to find it. Dani helped found her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and has only occasionally subjected her students to the Bard. Her writing has appeared in Lunch Ticket, The A3 Review,  and Fiction Southeast. She has also contributed to Maman Loup’s Den. Her debut novel, The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life, is out September 22, 2020.” (Bio taken from author’s website.)

“I learned to accept imperfection, both in myself and others.”

When valedictorian-contender Alison Green agrees to produce her school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she finds herself on a daunting path of misadventures. Alison has a full plate on her hands between meddling in her best friends’ love lives, finding herself a girlfriend, learning how to produce a doomed play, and figuring out how to balance school, the play, and her social life.

Sexuality plays a central theme throughout The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life—but not in the healthiest light. We learn that Alison only came out to her family after Becca, her straight best friend, convinced her that coming out to just her was not enough. Then, we see the play’s costume designer struggling in his relationship because his boyfriend is afraid to come out; by the end of the novel, the latter character comes out to the whole cast of the play so that the couple can reunite. Alison also grapples with her under-the-radar sexuality when she starts dating actress-slash-crush Charlotte Russel, who is more comfortable than Alison in her pansexual identity. Furthermore, Alison indirectly refers to herself as a lesbian not more than three times throughout the book, but rather constantly calls herself and other queer women characters “gay.” It’s clear that the author is attempting to explore sexuality through a young adult lens, but I’m just not sure it’s the most positive portrayal and fear what kind of message this could send to LGBTQIA+ readers.

Overall, this was a mostly lighthearted, quick-paced read. The characters felt authentically teenaged and their issues very young adult.

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

PRR Writer, Caroline Ross