Speak Easy, Speak Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Beatrice knows that if she leaves New York when she’s kicked out of boarding school, she’ll never be able to come back and realize her dream of becoming a doctor. She refuses to accept that future and determines to stay on course at all costs. Even if it means relying on an uncle she barely knows to take her in. Her uncle’s ramshackle mansion, Hey Nonny Nonny, holds quite a few unexpected boarders and hides a big secret: it’s a speakeasy offering entertainment and illegal spirits.

Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, loves the old house more than almost anything and she’s been doing everything she can to keep the eccentric speakeasy afloat. But with prohibition agents watching, limited supplies of liquor, and the pesky problem of needing to pay the staff, Hero isn’t sure if they can make it through one more party let alone the entire summer season.

Hero has always been able to rely on Prince, her steadfast friend who sees the speakeasy as his home and as a chance to prove himself to John, the half-brother who has never accepted Prince enough to let him in on his dealings as a member of the local mob.

Singing at Hey Nonny Nonny could be Maggie’s ticket to something bigger. But only if she’s willing to leave her friends there behind. And only if talent agents are willing to see beyond her brown skin to her big talent.

Then there’s Benedick who is determined to avoid the stuffed shirt life his father has laid out for him. No prep school graduation. No college. No banking job. Definitely no trust fund. Benedick is a writer and he’s sure that if he has the chance he can make it without his father’s backing–or his approval.

It’s dislike at first sight for Beatrice and Benedick–a feeling that only grows stronger in the face of repeated misunderstandings and arguments. Everyone else can see that Beatrice and Benedick are perfect for each other, but they both might be too stubborn to realize it without a lot of help in Speak Easy, Speak Love (2017) by McKelle George.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is George’s debut novel and a retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Written in the third person this novel shifts perspective primarily between Beatrice and Benedick as they arrive at Hey Nonny Nonny. Their story also overlaps with arcs for Hero, Prince, Maggie, and John over the course of an eventful summer that will change their lives forever.

Winsome characters, perfect pacing, and a plot that is simultaneously unique and true to the source material make Speak Easy, Speak Love a delight to read. Set primarily in Long Island, New York, this novel offers a quieter side of the Prohibition in the 1920s that isn’t often seen in historical fiction. Careful researching of the time period and an obvious familiarity with Shakespeare help to make this story vibrant and evocative.

Although they are living in the past, George handles this plot through the responsible lens of modern ideals. Benedick, often in discussion with Beatrice, contemplates his privilege as a young white man from a wealthy family and the knowledge that even during his rebellious flight to Long Island his family acts as a safety net. In contrast, Beatrice is used to having no one and has to learn how to both build and trust a support system as she finds true friends and family for the first time in years. Of course, Beatrice is also a classic feminist as she chases her dream to become a doctor. Side plots following Maggie and Prince explore the idea notion of belonging as well as barriers put in place by racism and discrimination at this time.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is a witty and droll story about six teens, an unlikely speakeasy, and the connections that will change their lives forever. A must read for fans of the 1920s, Shakespeare buffs, and anyone looking for a bright diversion. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Game of Love and Death by Martha E. Brockenbrough, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Snow White by Matt Phelan, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

You can also check out my interview with McKelle starting tomorrow.

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Just One Day: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Just One Day by Gayle FormanAfter a whirlwind tour through Europe, Allyson is looking forward to returning home and starting college in the fall. Even if it means missing Paris and even if the tour wasn’t everything Allyson thought it would be.

Two days before she is set to return home, Allyson sees an underground production of Twelfth Night that unexpectedly changes everything.

Accompanied by a laid-back Dutch actor named Willem as her guide, Allyson spends a whirlwind day in Paris where, finally, Allyson understands what her European tour was meant to feel like. As she and Willem grow closer, Allyson starts to understand what a lot of things are supposed to feel like.

At least, she thought she did.

When Allyson wakes up the next day to find Willem already gone, Allyson’s previous certainty shatters.

Starting college in the wake of Willem’s abrupt departure, Allyson starts to fall apart. She knows what is expected of her. She even knows most of what’s wrong. But she has no idea what she wants. No idea how to fix anything.

One day gave Allyson the chance to change everything even if it meant losing Willem. With one year, Allyson might be able to finally find herself in Just One Day (2013) by Gayle Forman.

Just One Day is the first novel in a duet. Willem’s story, Just One Year is set to publish in fall 2013.

Forman expertly chronicles Allyson’s self-destruction during her first semester of college as well as her efforts to start fresh (with a tabula rasa, if you will) in the following term. Allyson’s changing relationships with her family and friends are also handled well in the story.

Filled with travel and a variety of settings, Just One Day is a vivid trip through Europe filled with descriptions of all of the sights Allyson takes in over the course of her story. I also loved the inclusion of so many Shakespeare references as counterpoints to Allyson’s experiences. The underlying buoyancy and serendipity of the story is refreshing as (after the obligatory wallowing) Allyson works on moving forward.

Told over the course of one whirlwind day and the subsequently turbulent year, Just One Day is ostensibly a love story–or at least a story of lost love. Except it’s also a more than that. Knowing that the book is part of a duet, there will of course be answers about Willem’s disappearance and his own feelings about Allyson. However, by the end of the story, that’s very secondary to the story of Allyson finding herself and figuring out what she wants.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin