{Book Review} Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

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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.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.*

Much Ado About Nothing meets the Roaring Twenties – my favorite among Shakespeare’s comedies, and my favorite musical era, all in one book? What’s not to love? I fell in love with the spiel, but stayed for the writing, because the execution was phenomenal. I was immersed in the time of the Prohibition despite it not really being a topic of historical interest for me (beyond my love for the music produced at that time, anyway), and what’s more, I enjoyed it. This novel is very character-driven, more so than plot, but personally, I like my books character-driven anyway. Beatrice, Benedick, Hero, Pedro/Prince, Maggie, and John were fleshed out perfectly, and I had a fun time getting to know the characters I loved in the play version getting into the same shenanigans but with more backstory and more heart. The dialogue was delightfully witty, especially the banters and sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick, enough to do even Will himself proud.

I’m glad I read this during my Christmas break – reading every chapter was like unwrapping a gift from a close friend, a friend who also happened to know exactly what I wanted. It’s definitely one of the best adaptations I’ve read, with a fresh enough take that I’d say I would’ve loved this anyway even without knowing it was an adaptation.

My favorite quotes: 

“There was a sunniness in his words that somehow even disguised his appearance, erasing the boy shaking with exhaustion, flattening all his mercurial layers into one outfit of razzle-dazzle. But the razzle-dazzle was also real. That was the most baffling part of all. He was this, too.

She let him do it, not only because she came out looking all right in his story, not a clock-throwing ruin of a girl, but also because Benedick’s talking about her as if she were already one of them made her one of them.

Words. What a tricky, tangled science.”

“Perish the thought, me in love with this magnificently hideous bluestocking! For surely she was ugly, and yet there was never a question of attraction, because she had such beauty of thought. A luminous intelligence that outshone her perceived flaws. Small-minded criticisms of her visage could not withstand such tenderness, such strange, endless mystery in her eyes, of which most mortals had no conception, that left behind a sense of having encountered something truly exquisite.”

“No one wants to be told all the ways they’re falling short of your lofty standard of humanity. Kindly allow me the relief of not engaging with you”

“He felt like climbing a mountain, not for any heroic reason but for something stupid, like picking her a flower; he felt subservient to her whims, desperate for her not to command anyone but him; he felt terrified for feeling all those things after a tiny kiss, a nothing kiss, a fraction, a weed, a sneeze, compared with a dozen other tokens of affection he’d received in his life.”

“What are you rambling about, you nonsensical contradiction?”

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

368 pages

Author: McKelle George

Original Language: English

Published: 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction