By Jake Wizner
Luckily, Shakespeare Shapiro can write.
That’s kind of his saving grace, that and the really great assignments his English teacher, Mr. Parke, gives him. A talent mixed with his strange name give him the platform he needs to be crowned the constant class clown, cheerfully belittling himself with wildly exaggerated tales of his so-called life. Shakespeare, together with classmates and good buds Neil and Kate, is supposed to be writing his high school memoirs for the final English project of his senior year, but at the same time, he’s not sure he has anything to write about.
The last seventeen years of his life, according to him, have been a string of horrors and humiliations. His parents are oversexed nutjobs who gave him his name in a story because of a conception he would really rather never hear about; his mother is a passive-aggressive shrew, his father a drunk, his little brother, Gandhi, already has a girlfriend, has already smoked pot, and is just so much cooler than Shakespeare that he’s not even sure they’re really related.
In contrast, his life, which he renders humorously in ongoing glimpses of his memoir, consists of being caught with dirty magazines in junior high, being sent to spend time with his grandmother, who is certifiable, getting lost with his dead drunk father in Italy, and having to listen to blow by blow daily accounts of Neil’s bowel habits.
Shakespeare is forever going for the laugh, moaning about his virginity, and the fact that he’s just got to do something to break the mold before high school is over. The whole world is all about him, ad nauseum… until he becomes interested in someone whose life is so radically (and melodramatically) different than his own that it makes him stop and really… for once, shut up. And think.
Maybe it’s not that bad being Shakespeare Shapiro.
This novel is stuffed full of clever repartee and funny zingers – which, unfortunately, isn’t that much like real life in high school. Kind of a wish-fulfillment novel where the author got to turn back the clock and return to a much cooler high school alter ego, Spanking Shakespeare runs toward a slightly clichéd world view. Get past the loud, dumb, but cool jock, the kind of cute, spirited, poor girl, the basic blonde goddess and the funny guy and you’ll find yourself with a lightweight, amusing storyline that drags a little at times, but will keep you mildly amused all the way through. You can whip through this one in an afternoon on the lawn in the sunshine.
This review was first published in the March/April '08 issue of The Edge of the Forest Children's Literature Monthly.