A Wounded Name: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The boys progress and advance, and the girls cling to a time that was never ours.”

A Wounded Name by Dot HutchinsonIn a different life, with a different story, Ophelia could have been a very different girl. She could have been happy and vibrant and wholly defined on her own terms.

This is not that life. This is not that story.

Instead Ophelia is bound tight by her mother’s death, her overbearing father and brother, the boys she holds dear. She is shuttered in by the madness–or maybe the clarity–that comes with seeing ghosts and hearing the keening of the bean sidhe as they sing for the newly dead,

The Headmaster of Elsinore Academy has died. And with him goes any hope of that different story, that different life, for Ophelia. As she struggles to help Dane mourn and grieve the death of his father, Hamley, Ophelia is drawn into his spiral of madness and rage.

There are many points where Ophelia could have chosen a different path. A different life. But this isn’t that story. Promises have been made and, once made, promises must be kept. No matter how damaging in A Wounded Name (2013) by Dot Hutchinson.

A Wounded Name is Hutchinson’s first novel. It is also, if you haven’t guessed yet, a retelling of Hamlet set at a boarding school.

Initially, A Wounded Name is a wonderful retelling with the perfect blend of new and old. Hutchinson perfectly captures Ophelia’s voice and cadence in her first person narration.

Everything here should work.

The thing is, to understand the problems here, you also have to understand the play. (It is possible to read A Wounded Name without knowing the original play, however a lot of plot choices make more sense knowing the background.) And in the play, both Ophelia and Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother) are passive characters. Aside from key moments where it is necessary to the plot* these women do not play active roles in the story. They do not have their own agency. They are not, in short, modern women.

But A Wounded Name is a modern book. In order to remedy this disconnect, Hutchinson makes Elsinore Academy a backward school (as the quote at the start of this review suggests) in order to offer some kind of crutch to explain Gertrude and Ophelia. Unfortunately it is done weakly and under any level of scrutiny the conceit falls apart.**

Setting that aside, Hutchinson’s writing is excellent and she aptly blends Ophelia’s world of reality and madness to create a compelling atmosphere sure to draw readers in.

This atmosphere grows thinner as the plot moves closer to the content of the original play. As Dane plays a larger role and readers arrive at familiar events the retelling suffers as Hutchinson focuses on key scenes from the play with varying degrees of success.*** A Wounded Name is at its strongest outside of these moments when Hutchinson is forging new territory instead of referring back to her source material.

A Wounded Name shines in what it makes explicit about Ophelia’s relationship with Dane as Hutchinson hints that they are drawn to a shared sense of madness and grief. Hamlet’s violence and temper are present for anyone to see in the play but again Hutchinson makes it a concrete detail by tying Dane’s physical affection for Ophelia with physical abuse.****

Horatio is another interesting aspect here. Being a Shakespearean retelling, homoerotic undertones are probably inevitable. That said, in some ways, the direction Hutchinson took with Horatio’s relationship with Hamlet seemed to invalidate some of the solidity of their friendship.***** Laertes also suffers in his modern translation here.

A Wounded Name is an obvious read for anyone interested in Shakespeare, or boarding schools, or even mental illness. Whether it stands on its own–without the original play–may be open to interpretation. Regardless, Hutchinson offers interesting and often original insights into one of literature’s most mercurial and enigmatic characters. Furthermore her beautiful, well-structured prose mark her as an author to watch.

*Gertrude choosing to re-marry, Ophelia’s death, and so on.

**The backwardness of Elsinore Academy–the casual sexism and training the female students to be wives instead of powerhouses in their own right–is explained in a tension between Elsinore and a rival school but it never quite makes sense. The other school is headed by Reggie Fortins and it also felt like a missed opportunity letting Fortinbras once again be a marginal character and also a contemporary of Hamlet’s father instead of Dane (young Hamlet) himself.

***Readers of Hamlet will know which scenes to expect. Those who have not read Hamlet will recognize scenes from when the dialogue becomes unbelievably wordy as Hutchinson tries to transfer whole segments of the play part and parcel into the novel. Yorrick, sadly, does not appear. Hamlet’s “Get thee to a nunnery” speech also loses all meaning in a fuzzy reinterpretation that works with the contemporary setting while losing all of the original bite and double meaning.

****Literally every time Hamlet touches Ophelia, he hurts her. It makes for an interesting commentary on domestic abuse and violence against women. However, the way Ophelia just takes anything Dane condescends to give her is deeply troubling.

*****I don’t think it was Hutchinson’s intent at all, but one reading of Horatio’s feelings for Dane in the novel seems to suggest that strength of friendship wasn’t enough to bind these two young men together.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Author Interview: Alex London on Proxy

Alex London author photoAlex London recently released his first YA novel, Proxy which is an incredible exciting page-turner filled with a diverse cast of characters (some likable and some . . . less so). He is also a non-practicing librarian and, true story, one of my classmates from library school as well as an all around nice guy (not to mention an author of lots of other books under other pen names). He’s here today to answer some questions about his writing and his fab new novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point? (Please also feel free to tell us about your other writing personas!)

Alex London (AL): It has been a long and winding road. In 2nd grade I wrote a book called Lawrence & Luther Lizard go to Summer Camp. Then I spent a few years playing kickball, going through puberty, reading Kerouac, temping, and working when I could as a freelance journalist. In my twenties I published two books of nonfiction for adults—One Day the Soldiers Came and Far From Zion, both under the name Charles London (which is my first name). I had trouble making a living that way, but I knew I wanted to be around books and readers, so I got my masters in Library Science from Pratt, and worked at NYPL. It was there that I really began to read literature for young people and fell in love with the diversity of voices and stories on those shelves, as well as the passion of the readers. I started writing middle grade shortly thereafter (as C. Alexander London, so as not to encourage 10 year olds to stumble upon the rather heavy stories of young people in war that fill the pages of One Day the Soldiers Came). I was a YA librarian at NYPL, and I simply loved teen literature. I knew one day I would write a novel I hoped would be of interest to teens, but I wasn’t sure what it would be. I was drawn to books like MT Anderson’s Feed, Lois Lowry’s Giver, and an ARC I’d picked up of the as-yet unreleased first book in Patrick Ness’s astonishing Chaos Walking trilogy. The imaginative scope of dystopian stories always intrigued me. Even in High School, I loved 1984.

MP: What was the inspiration for Proxy?

AL: I’ve said elsewhere that writing a novel is like summoning a genii, and geniis are wily creatures. They’re found in unlikely places and often grant wishes you didn’t ask for, so the inspiration for the world of Proxy, the story, and the characters, came from more sources that I’m probably even aware of and it isn’t exactly the book I thought it would be when I began.

The concept in Proxy, where the rich pay for the poor to take their punishments, came from The Whipping Boy, which I read in elementary school and which my partner reminded me of one day when I’d forgotten to do the dishes. He took one look at the sink, one look at me sitting on the couch having spent all day not doing the dishes (or much of anything) and called out “fetch the Whipping Boy!”

For those who don’t recall, The Whipping Boy is the story of a bratty prince and the poor, put-upon boy who takes punishments in his place. So that fateful neglected household chore provided the initial spark.

The main character in Proxy, Syd, got his name assigned to him as an orphan from a database of literary names—his full name is Sydney Carton—so it’d be hard for me to deny that A Tale of Two Cities inspired me. I do know that Syd’s crushes on the popular guy and his banter with his straight best friend are right out of my own high school life, as is the sense of entitlement among the elites of the society. I am, myself, a prep school boy and Proxy grapples with that upbringing. At the same time, I love sci-fi, so there’s as much Blade Runner and Mad Max informing my imagination as there is Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. I like my books filled with big ideas and big explosions. I hope Proxy satisfies on both counts.

MP: In Proxy, foundlings taken in by the Benevolent Society are named from a database that uses names from classic literature. If you were such a foundling what name would you hope to get from the database? Is there any name you’d really want to avoid?

AL: I have a deep and abiding hatred, instilled in me in 6th grade, for the book Johnny Tremain, so I would loathe being named after that particular character. In he grim cosmology of Proxy, however, it seems likely that name would be exactly my fate. Sticking with Dickens, like I did for Syd’s name, I think I’d enjoy being named Oliver Twist, because I am deeply partial to the name Oliver for some reason.

MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct future? Did your vision for Syd and Knox’s world start with a specific place or aspect?

AL: The Whipping Boy concept was where it began and the future I imagined really stemmed from that. I had to create a world where young people would enter into such a system, would not rebel against it right away, and where such a system would even be possible. So the idea of the free market run amuck, the privatization of everything, and a class of people whose only value to society was as debtors informed all the decisions I made about the world where Syd and Knox live. And that world, of course, informed their characters as they were each shaped (or warped) by their society.

MP: In addition to some crazy action sequences, Proxy has quite a few twists and surprises. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

AL: I don’t really make outlines, for good or ill, so I wrote first and foremost to surprise myself. I didn’t know most of what would happen before it happened. In revision of course, I had to make it all make sense, control the pacing and the revelations. My goal was to make the book unputdownable, the kind of book I enjoy reading, so in a way, I served as my own beta reader. If I was surprised by the twists and turns, I could believe my readers would be too. Although, there are still places in it where I wished I handled it more elegantly. I often feel I could have done better if I outlined. I’m an ‘aspirational plotter’ trapped in ‘pantser’s’ mindset.

MP: One of the coolest, most refreshing things in Proxy (besides the premise) is the casual diversity. Syd is gay but the story isn’t about him being gay. He is also brown. I hesitate to reveal more because of spoilers but you have a diverse case of characters here. Did you always know that Syd was gay? Did you have to strive to include diversity in Proxy or did it come organically?

AL: The diversity really emerged organically. I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn and looking around myself, I couldn’t imagine a future that was not diverse. There was no world I could see in which races, religions, and ethnicities didn’t continue to mingle. So that aspect of the story just seemed a fact of the future. As to Syd’s sexuality, that was not at all planned. He surprised me with it, but it really did seem right as I explored it (there were drafts when it was more heavy handed). As a gay man myself, I was happy to create a gay action hero whose gayness was not central to the story. It informed him, but didn’t define him. I liked writing a story like this where the hero had no interest in that tired old trope of ‘getting the girl.’

MP: In addition to the delightful Syd, Proxy’s other main character is the more-troublesome-but-still-charming Knox. Which character did you identify more with while writing? Was one character more fun to write than the other?

AL: Knox, being such a charming jerk was definitely more fun to write. He was much more of a challenge too, making him if not exactly likable, redeemable in a way. I had to find a path to forgive him for so much of who he was and that was not easy. I also have a lot more in common with Knox than I do with Syd (other than Knox’s womanizing), so writing him was a chance for me to explore my own relationship with privilege. I also just really enjoyed writing the dynamic between Syd and Knox. The straight-gay friendship has always interested me (for obvious reasons…in high school all my guy friends were straight).

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? What should readers expect in Guardian?

AL: I actually wrote Proxy as a standalone novel, and then my publisher really wanted a sequel, so I had to figure out what story I still had to tell in that world. It turns out, I had lot. I need more time with a certain character in Proxy who I didn’t focus enough on. And of course, Syd’s story is far from over. Without giving too much away, the stakes of Guardian are even higher. The action comes faster and perhaps more mercilessly, and there is, at last for young Sydney, a possibility of romance…

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

AL: 13 books into my career and I’ve only learned one thing, really. Every book is different and the only way to write is to write. There is no difference between what I do and what an aspiring author does when they stare at a blank page. We get the stories out as best we can and then try to make sense of what we’ve got through revision.

As to making a living doing it…that is another question. For me, finding early readers I trust and an agent who is committed to helping me reach my goals have been essential. There is only one name on the jacket of a book, but there are countless people whose hard work goes into making the book happen. Find those people however you can.

Thanks again to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and be epic.

You can also read my review of Proxy here on the blog or visit his website for more information about Proxy and his other books.

Proxy: A Review

Proxy by Alex LondonSyd is an orphan. He doesn’t know anything about his past. He doesn’t want to think about his present. The only thing that keeps Syd going is that his debt is almost paid. Two more years and Syd’s time as a proxy will be done. No more punishments for crimes committed by his patron. No more being seen as less than everything in the eyes of the system. Two more years and Syd will finally be free.

Knox doesn’t think much about his past. Or his future. He doesn’t have to when he can focus on the present and all of the indulgences and luxuries it offers. Not to mention the opportunities to create mayhem and catch a cheap thrill. Sure, sometimes Knox gets caught. But then his proxy is the one punished. So, really, who cares?

Then things go too far.

Drawn together in the wake of a horrible wrong, Syd and Knox have to run from the authorities as they try to understand the secrets beneath the patron/proxy infrastructure. In a world where debts can be lethal, these unlikely allies will have to work together to try and tear down the system if they want to survive in Proxy (2013) by Alex London.

Find it on Bookshop.

Proxy is a thrill-a-minute adventure set in a future where everything has a price. London alternates between Knox and Syd’s points of view throughout for a complete picture of the world as well as both characters. The world building here is top-notch to create a disturbingly possible and dangerous future.

Filled with as many explosions as it is with philosophical discussions, Proxy is an exciting read that also asks hard questions about obligations and the nature of determinism. The evolving dynamic between Syd and Knox is also fascinating to follow.*

Suffice to say, Proxy is a fun, surprising read. Even better, it is filled with meaningfully diverse characters readers will want to cheer for.

*Syd is also gay which isn’t a big deal in and of itself EXCEPT that his being gay is not in anyway the focus of the story–it’s just a part of his character. Unfortunately it’s still rare for characters to go against normative ideas (white, straight, etc.) in stories that focus on other things (like amazing stories of action and suspense). Proxy is obviously one exception and I hope to see more such characters in the future because society needs them. And if they’re anything like Syd they’re going to be awesome.

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Black City by Elizabeth Richards, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

You can also read my exclusive interview with Alex here on the blog starting tomorrow September 10.

The “No More Tears” September Reading List

September got off to a rough start at Miss Print HQ. I’m taking it one day at a time and getting through it. But I’ve decided I really don’t need any extra melancholy or tragedy in the books I read.

So I’m doing a “No More Tears” read-a-thon for the rest of the month where I only read happy books or books that I hope have a less probability of making me sad.

I’m not setting a goal for how many to read but here are the ones in the line up (let me know in comments if one should move higher up my list):

  • The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
  • The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable
  • A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron
  • Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
  • The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
  • The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

There here are the books I want to get to that I am putting off until I’m feeling bit more emotionally prepared:

  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  • The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
  • Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
  • The After Girls by Leah Konen
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (I know there are vampires but is it SAD?)
  • Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young

I just finished Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney a couple of hours ago. It was cute and a good choice for right now. I’m leaning toward The Clockwork Scarab or Just Like Fate next. Depends on which book I can find.

I also get to shift gears from all BEA books all the time to reading some of the older titles on my to be read shelves. So what should move to the top of the list? What should I hold off on because it’s too tragic?

Synchronized Reading Roundup: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

This month Nicole and I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts I wrote up for the Synchronized Reading:

You can also head over to Nicole’s blog to see her posts:

Fangirl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath isn’t exactly ready for college. She isn’t even looking forward to much except the advanced level English class she talked her way into during registration.

College itself is daunting enough. Then Cath’s sister, Wren, announces that she doesn’t want to be roommates on campus. Suddenly the entire prospect has gone from horrible to possibly unbearable.

Cath’s roommate is loud and scary. She’s also kind of mean. And her boyfriend is around All. The. Time.

The dining hall is too horrible to even contemplate.

She’s worried about her dad who is going to be living alone for the first time in years.

And Cath doesn’t know what to expect from her classes.

In the midst of so much unwelcome change, Cath does have one constant: Simon and Baz.

Cath, like most everyone, is a Simon Snow fan. She knows the community. She goes to the release parties. She also writes fan fiction about Simon and his nemesis Baz.

The only problem is that Cath isn’t sure fan fiction alone is going to be enough to get her through a turbulent freshman year in Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Fangirl is a meandering journey through Cath’s first year of college as she adjusts to dorm life, college classes and even the nuances of dating and friend politics. (Not to mention all of her family drama.)

Epigraphs accompany each chapter with relevant excerpts either from the Simon Snow books or from Cath’s fan fic about the characters. The technique works surprisingly well as readers are drawn into the world of Simon Snow and come to care about him (and Baz) as much as Cath does.

One of the best things about Fangirl is that all of the characters are very well developed. Although the novel focuses on Cath it feels like any of the characters could be the star here–they all have their own stories.

Rowell’s writing is as excellent as fans would expect. She also unpacks complicated topics such as the line between fan fiction and plagiarism. Cath is a strong, neurotic heroine who is far from perfect but also very, very real. Fangirl also summoned all sorts of nostalgia about the college experience and friendships.

Because this book covers a large range of time some matters are addressed more than others; some things are tied up more than others. There are questions at the end of Fangirl but there is also enough room for readers to imagine their own endings.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Required Reading

Top Ten Tuesdays img by Miss Print

So the original topic was: Top 10 Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Paired With A Required Reading Book or Top Ten Books That You Wish Were Taught In Schools. I’m shortening that to books that could be great required reading.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinThe Invention of Hugo CabretFor Darkness Shows the Stars coverElla Enchanted coverThe Eyre Affair cover

  1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: This one is almost a no-brainer. I love it for the plotting and the intricacy of the story but it’s also one of the best fictional depictions of WWII that I’ve ever read.
  2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: Great historical setting and I maintain that this should be required reading for all film studies majors and enthusiasts.
  3. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: I love the idea of using a retelling of a story (like this one!) to introduce and work with a classic.
  4. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I have used this book to illustrate an example of an effective feminist text. I also love it as a retelling.
  5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: This series deals with a lot but again I love it to introduce and work with a classic as Fforde highlights some of the problems within Jane Eyre in a highly amusing story.
  6. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (or Strings Attached): No one does historical fiction like Judy Blundell. No one. I love her. Best examples of noir writing and best examples of 1950s New York area. Just fab.
  7. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld: I feel like this could bomb but I’d love more units working with speculative fiction or alternate history stories to discuss real history (like WWI in this case).
  8. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: See above. This one is a great exploration of family and grieving but also a very compelling look at the French Revolution from an unlikely perspective.
  9. Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel: A fantasy but a great atmosphere and evocative read of the 1930s Dust Bowl.
  10. The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton: An alternate history with Norse mythology undertones would be a great way to discuss the myths and history. Just saying.

What I Saw and How I Lied coverLeviathan coverRevolution by Jennifer DonnellyDust Girl by Sarah ZettelThe Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

(Image made by me.)