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Falling for Hamlet    by Michelle Ray order for
Falling for Hamlet
by Michelle Ray
Order:  USA  Can
Poppy, 2011 (2011)

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*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

I applaud Michelle Ray for attempting to make the story of William Shakespeare's Hamlet accessible to today's teens. As such, Falling for Hamlet hits the mark. As a contemporary YA novel, though, it falls a little short.

In modern-day Denmark, Ophelia lives in one of the condos behind the old castle. She and her friend Horatio have grown up accustomed to riding the elevator to the penthouse to visit Hamlet and the rest of the royal family. And over their years together, Ophelia has fallen for Hamlet, and he for her, but their relationship has always been a rocky one, especially after he and Horatio leave Elsinore for Wittenburg College.

They have only been back together for a few months when, at the start of Ophelia's senior year of high school, Hamlet's father dies. Hamlet is convinced that his uncle poisoned his father, and becomes even more determined to prove it when his mother marries his uncle two months later. Hamlet's an emotional wreck and pushes Ophelia away. Things escalate until Hamlet erroneously shoots Ophelia's father. Ophelia then finds herself a prisoner in her own home and must devise a way to escape if she ever wants to have a life again.

Bringing Hamlet to modern times was a daunting task, but Ray did a good job of getting the story across to teen readers in a way that reading Shakespeare never could. However, some spots just did not weather the time travel fully intact.

First, all of the original characters came through with their Shakespearean names, which helped to make them easily identifiable for anyone who is familiar with Hamlet. New characters were given modern names, which did work in a way to separate them out; however, their non-Danish names made the setting rather disjointed.

Second, the idea of the new king and queen threatening Ophelia with releasing a sex tape of her and Hamlet just did not seem realistic. Not only would they be harming their son if it was released, it also comes across as rather sick and creepy that they would have such a thing.

Finally, the main scene that just did not work in a contemporary retelling was the fight between Hamlet and Ophelia's brother Laertes. Instead of a sword fight, which could have easily been turned into a modern day fencing match, it became a charity lacrosse game with the older Laertes leading the current high school team and Hamlet heading the team of alums. Poisoned blades were still used, but as only the captains of each lacrosse team lay slain (along with the king and queen), it was just not quite the massacre with which the play ends.

Some of the changes Michelle Ray made to make Hamlet contemporary worked well, namely Ophelia's fate. Others pale in comparison to Shakespeare's original work, and almost seem laughable. Overall though, Falling for Hamlet is a worthy effort and will help teens grasp this classic tale.

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