Monday, 3 September 2018

Review: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Publication Date: September 19th 2017
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Pages: 432 pages

Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Much Ado About Nothing has to be my favourite Shakespeare. I love the sass, the banter, the characters - and that love affair can be traced back to the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson adaptation in the 90s which I still love re-watching. So when I came across Angie's review (which essentially was a love letter to this retelling) it was a no brainer that of course I was going to pick it up.

With such high hopes and a dizzying array of nerves (how could the story really work transplanted into the 1920s?) I was nervous when I opened to the first page, but within the first few sentences I was laughing and most of the way to falling in love with Benedick Scott, and utterly utterly smitten.

This cast of characters is utterly glorious. McKelle has taken the essence of the play, and then filled it with her own glorious originality and charm. It is funny, biting, the characters are real and wonderful and flawed, and I fell in love with each of them over the course of the book. She shows the original wit, and then plumbs each character for new depths, compelling, complex, shades of grey instead of black and white. I adored the new facets given to John and Maggie for example, turning them into complex and fascinating people that I wanted to spend more time with.

Not since Blue and her boys in The Raven Cycle have I fallen so hard and fast for a misfit group. They stole my heart and I found myself in turns laughing and then moved to tears at this beautiful and fresh retelling. There is lightness, romance and humour certainly, but McKelle twists that deftly with hardship and raw grit and emotion. This story has hard edges beneath the softness and humour, and it makes it all the more powerful and beautiful.

(Side note: Chapter titles created from original bits of dialogue from the play? BE STILL MY HEART.)

In short, this book is wonderful. Ultimately this will be one of my favourite reads of the year, and will be gifted to several people at Christmas to spread the joy and beauty of this book. It is a gem of a book, one that I will return to repeatedly, and one that deserves more notice than it has received.
Read it. Read it now.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you so so much for bringing it to my attention! It was perfect.