Dionne, Erin. The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (2010). 290 Pages. Penguin. $16.99
All that Hamlet Elizabeth Kennedy wants is an ordinary family, and a normal life. Unfortunately for Hamlet, her family (and life) are anything but. It’s bad enough that her parents are fanatical Shakespeare scholars who believe in “Living Shakespeare,” right down to period speech, dress, and meals. It’s even worse that her seven year-old sister, Desdemona, is a genius with an IQ off the charts, but the final straw for Hamlet is when she finds out that Desdemona will be attending her school, and will also be in eighth grade.
Hamlet’s deepest, darkest secret is the craziness of her family, and with Dezzie at her school, she knows it’s only a matter of time before her secret is out. It seems like the whole universe is conspiring against her at times; her project for the semester is a Salute to Shakespeare, which involves both Social Studies and Language Arts, her sister is in her art class, and she’s bombing Pre-Algebra. As if that wasn’t enough, someone’s slipping origami pigs into her locker, and Hamlet isn’t sure if it’s a cruel joke, or a declaration of love.
Hamlet’s honest, funny narration is a large part of what makes this book so great. She’s got a strong, clear voice, and an eye for the absurd which makes the funny moments hilarious, and the tense moments more nail-biting. The novel is broken into three “Acts,”* which are not all that different from each other. We learn a lot about Hamlet and Desdemona, but not a whole lot about the supporting characters (which in this case works, because the book is about them, and their relationship.) By the end of the book, Hamlet’s view of the world has changed. She’s grown up, a little, and is happier for it. Desdemona, too, has learned. It’s a hopeful ending which suits the story.
The Quick Version:
I realize that I automatically like a book about twice as much if it has a few jokes about classic literature, but even without that, this book is amazing. Hamlet is easily one of the best YA narrators I’ve recently come across. She’s got a great voice, and really seems to grow between page 1 and page 290. She’s incredibly relatable, and basically makes the book (which gets a 5/5, by the way.)
* Which should really be five, because Shakespeare writes 5-act plays.
This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!