Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George (review)
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Reviewed by
George, McKelle Speak Easy, Speak Love. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2017 [432p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-256092-6 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-256094-0 $8.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10

Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing bears up uncannily well in this richly imagined and well-researched relocation into a 1920s Prohibition setting. Beatrice is a seventeen-year-old engine-and-gun-savvy feminist, while Benedick is a smooth-talking, wealthy teen trying to escape his overbearing father’s plans for him. When Beatrice is kicked out of boarding school, she is welcomed into her uncle Leo’s home and befriended immediately by her sweetly sexy cousin, Hero, and just as immediately drawn into a sparring relationship with Benedick. With Leo, Hero runs a speakeasy in the basement of their home, which headlines Maggie, a girl who aspires to sing at the Cotton Club. Liquor and finances are secured by Prince, whose brother, John, is dabbling with the growing mafia. The book even finds a way to bring in Dogberry and Verges, interpreting them as a pair of Prohibition [End Page 115] agents. With all the principal characters accounted for and most of the twists, betrayals, and misunderstandings faithfully rendered, George doesn’t forget that this is a YA adaptation; the ending features characters moving on, some together, some not, rather than marrying. The novel works as well as a standalone as it does as an adaptation, with readers fully immersed in the excitement, glamour, and danger of a culture tipping into rebellion and making way for change in more ways than one. Author’s notes and a bibliography provide additional context for the liberties taken with the actual history, but their effect is to more pointedly highlight the clever fidelity of the retelling.

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