Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: time travel, plays, Shakespeare, religion, romance, fate, seduction, historical fiction
Format read: ARC from Netgalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Miranda, a high school senior, is all set to follow in her thespian parents’ footsteps and attend Yale for drama in the fall. Or so she thinks. After (what she believes to be) a weak performance in Taming of the Shrew, she is ready to throw in the towel when out of nowhere, Stephen, another actor in the play, emerges and asks her the most unexpected (and weirdest) question: “How would you like to meet Shakespeare?” Before she knows it, Stephen has whisked her off to England circa 1581 to assist him in saving Shakespeare and the future of theatre and literature as we know it. Can Miranda handle the biggest role of her life?
Full disclosure: in the years since high school, my knowledge of England in the 1500s has slowly dissolved into dust particles. And geez, I could have really used it while reading Kissing Shakespeare. I knew historical fiction might be a challenge but it was the religious conflict in England that really threw me for a loop. From the book description, I had no idea it was going to take such precedence in the story. Religion is so imperative to Shakespeare’s future and while I applaud Mingle for attacking such a storyline, sometimes my lack of understanding on this subject slowed down my enjoyment of the book.
But let’s get to the good stuff. I was first interested in this title because of the theater! I’m a huge fan of plays and I can only imagine what it would be like to be given the opportunity to meet your idol in another century. Stephen could not have “coerced” Miranda to come along at this journey at a better time — Shakespeare needs her help and perhaps Miranda needs a little kick in the butt as well. I’m no expert on time traveling (are you?) but I did wish that Miranda would have been a bit funnier when they switched time periods — she was a dramatic girl (no surprise there) but the bits of sarcasm she does express would have been welcome in earlier parts of the book. (It took me about 138 pages to get into the story.)
As Stephen “casts” Miranda as his sister “Olivia” (anyone get the Shakespeare reference here?) — it is funny to see the cultural clashes between the two, and Miranda and the rest of the supporting characters. William is, of course, utterly charming but conflicted about his future. He wants to be a player but he also feels he should do his duty to the church. Jenett is a mysterious gal, crushing on William, and betrothed to an older man she has no desire to marry. There are quite a few mini sub-plots swirling around KS and they did the job of softening the religious plot when situations got a bit too intense. That intensity, though, did grip me quite a bit in the second half of the book and I was anxious to see what would become of our characters and the future of Shakespeare’s work.
Not only did the subject matter surprise me, but so did the love story. Stephen is a dapper and intriguing young man, and I enjoyed getting to know him. Although his plan for saving Shakespeare? Don’t think he thought that one through. Ladies and gents, he wanted Miranda to do more than just KISS Shakespeare. He wanted her to sleep with him. I thought that was a tad presumptuous on his part, especially since Miranda was a virgin. (Is this commentary on teenage girls of today?) Again, I was shocked by her reactions to this “order” (and also the fact that protection in this century was not discussed?). I’m not sure if I would have treated it as lightly even if I felt I wanted to prove something (which I get, I’m totally competitive).
Thematically, I love the idea of fate and how one little thing can affect so many people and so many outcomes. How would our world be different if Shakespeare didn’t write his works? His influence goes far behind the stage and the classroom and that is completely evident in this story. In a smaller sense, how will Miranda’s life be shaped by this experience as well? You know her love story is only temporary, which saddened me; I kept hoping for a stroke of magic that would make everything come together… but I’m glad that Mingle decided to end her tale where she did.
Here’s my advice to you: even though Kissing Shakespeare is a longer YA novel, starts out slow, and isn’t the fluff you may be expecting, stick with it. The chemistry is hot, there are some funny and silly moments, and I felt a renewed sense of interest in Shakespeare and his life. (Did anyone remember he married a gal named Anne Hathaway? I had to do a double take when I read that!)