Shakespeare-Inspired YA Lit

Our children’s librarian, Megan Seeland, selects all the YA (young adult) books for the library. As part of that, she not only examines countless reviews, but in addition actually reads most of the books that she buys for the library. Listed below are some (and you’d be amazed how many books are in this category!) Shakespeare-inspired YA books. They include contemporary, historical and fantasy settings – something for everybody! Her favorites are marked with a star ( )

Printable list

Picture of book cover for An Assassin's Guide to Love & TreasonAn Assassin’s Guide to Love & Treason by Virginia Boecker
From Booklist: “It’s Elizabethan England: practicing Catholicism can lead to execution, William Shakespeare is working on As You Like It, and Tobias Ellis spies for Queen Elizabeth herself. In Cornwall, Lady Katherine Arundell watches as her father is murdered for his faith, and she becomes entangled in a plot to assassinate the queen. When he catches wind of this plot, Toby sets a trap. Shakespeare’s new play, Twelfth Night, will be performed exclusively for Her Majesty and Katherine walks right in. Disguised as a boy called Kit, she joins the troupe, playing opposite a watchful Toby. But Toby, bisexual in a time when same-sex relationships were dangerous, is beginning to fall for Kit, and Katherine has feelings for him as well, despite her guilt over lying to him about her true identity. Opening night approaches, and, one way or another, the truth will out. Boecker (The King Slayer, 2016) spins themes from Twelfth Night into her narrative, while neatly working ideas of gender and sexual identity into historical context. A romantic, swashbuckling adventure that will tempt Shakespeare buffs.”
Picture of book cover for Saving HamletSaving Hamlet by Molly Booth
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Fans of the Bard will relish this evocative and witty time-travel tale that has student stage manager Emma falling through a trapdoor into Shakespeare’s 17th-century Globe Theater, where the high school sophomore is mistaken for a male backstage assistant. Before Emma has a chance to adjust to the language, conventions, and stench of Elizabethan thespians, she is swept into the frenzied preparations for the premiere production of Hamlet, the same play being rehearsed at her school under the questionable leadership of a new student director. Using the trapdoor as a portal between two centuries, Emma begins leading a double life, finding crises, triumphs, and romance in both worlds. First-time author Booth captures the thrills of the theater in two eras while providing an striking portrait of Shakespeare and the Chamberlain’s Men through Emma’s eyes. Her energetic narrative encapsulates general issues of Elizabethan England (disease, pollution, hygiene) and personal ones confronting Emma in modern times (earning respect from her cast, rebuilding broken friendships, and saving a show from potential disaster). As enlightening as it is enjoyable, this whimsical novel deserves applause of its own.”
Picture of book cover for Prince of ShadowsPrince of Shadows: A Novel of Romeo and Juliet by Rachel Caine
From Booklist: “Having recently concluded her Morganville Vampires series, Caine heads in a different direction with this evocative and ambitious retelling of Romeo and Juliet, told primarily from the perspective of Romeo’s cousin Benvolio Montague. Her Benvolio leads a double life: he’s a masked rebel and thief by night, and when he meets Tybalt Capulet’s sister, Lady Rosaline, it sparks the potential for another Montague-Capulet love affair. As the families’ feud escalates, the plot both follows and expands on that of the original, capturing the families’ stifling attempts at matchmaking, fleshing out scenes that take place behind closed doors, and bringing fascinating depth, complexity, and context to the familiar events, including heartbreaking backstory for Mercutio’s intemperance and rage, as well as his dying curse. Romeo and Juliet-all but marginal characters in this retelling-are far from the only star-crossed lovers whose stories unfold; placing them in the periphery lets Caine focus on the broader ramifications of and machinations behind the violent, revenge-driven culture that plagues the streets of Verona.”
Picture of book cover for Storm-WakeStorm-Wake by Lucy Christopher
From Booklist: “Starred Review* On an isolated island ravaged by fierce storms, Moss grows up. At first, it’s just Moss and her pa; the Old World, he tells her, was destroyed by terrible floods and people who didn’t care for the earth. On the island, Pa picks wild, healing stormflowers and tells Moss stories of magical sea creatures. Here, though, magic is more than a story: one day, a horse appears from the ocean, and then a boy Moss’ age, named Callan, whom Pa says is part fish. At first, this is as big as Moss needs her world to be. But as the years pass and her feelings for Callan grow more complicated, her awareness of Pa, his changeable moods, and the stories he tells her begin to change, and she starts to wonder about the world beyond. When another storm causes a boy from that world to shipwreck on the island, Moss may be about to find answers. Christopher, whose debut (Stolen, 2010) was a Printz Honor Book, uses elements from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to tell the story of another girl adrift. Through economy of language, she finds Moss’ voice; through clear, luminous prose, she anchors the story to the island, which seems half alive itself. A tale of strange magic and faith lost and found that packs no less a wallop for its slim size.”
Picture of book cover for Just One DayJust One Day by Gayle Forman
(First in theJust One Day duology)
From Booklist: “Call it an accident, serendipity, or a miracle, a single event comes to define a year in Allyson Healey’s life. Straitlaced Allyson finds her postgraduation trip to Europe ( Teen Tours! ) underwhelming until she makes the uncharacteristic decision to follow Willem, an actor in a Guerilla Will performance of Twelfth Night, to Paris for a single day. Before you start thinking this is a teen version of Before Sunrise (and the first third kind of is), Willem seemingly up and disappears after a one-night stand. What follows is a tumultuous freshman year for Allyson, filled with what-ifs, severe depression, and, finally, strength as she decides to seek the truth of what happened that day. Although some readers may feel frustrated with Allyson’s descent into the depths of despair after a 24-hour affair, others the romantics will get swept up in the story, which has it all: true love, Paris, Shakespeare, and, yes, the notion that anything can happen in just one day. The believers won’t want the story to end; luckily, Just One Year, told from Willem’s point of view, is on the horizon.”
Picture of book cover for The Juliet ClubThe Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
From Publisher’s Weekly: “After winning a Shakespeare essay contest, practical Kate is off to Verona, Italy, to attend a summer seminar about Romeo and Juliet. There, at a romantic villa, she and her classmates act out scenes from the play, learn Elizabethan dances and answer letters written to Juliet from teenagers who are, as her dramatic professor puts it, “lost, wandering, desperate for advice about love.” (A real-life club in Verona answers thousands of such letters each year.) Of course, in the true spirit of the Bard, they also experience romantic complications: Kate and flirty Giacomo discover the other students plotting to “pull a Beatrice and Benedick” (from Much Ado About Nothing) and make them fall in love with each other. Although Harper’s wit is less acute than in her debut, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney, her sense of humor and flair for playful dialogue remain strong enough to overcome the predictable narrative arc. Plenty of drama–on- and offstage–will keep readers in their seats.”
Picture of book cover for Bright Smoke, Cold FireBright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge
From Publisher’s Weekly: “The world beyond the walled city of Viyara is dead. Strong magic, performed by the steely Sisters of Thorn, keeps undead revenants at bay, but it is a tenuous peace. Inside the city, two powerful clans chafe against each other. Juliet Catresou, magicked and trained from infancy to defend her family, has fallen in love with Romeo, a rival from the Mahyanai clan. When her vengeful magic compels her to kill him, they resist it with catastrophic results: Romeo becomes bound to Paris Catresou, and Juliet is killed, only to be pulled back to life by Mahyanai Runajo, a Sister, in an accidental, forbidden act of necromancy. With Viyara in danger, the two are thrown into separate quests to save it. This starts at the end of the familiar story, channeling most of its narrative through Paris and Runajo, and for once, readers may not know where it’s going what is death in a world with necromancers? High stakes, desperate love, and a healthy dose of gore keep this update fresh and intriguing.”
Picture of book cover for A Wounded NameA Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson
From Booklist: “In a contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, debut author Hutchison sets the famous tragedy at Elsinore Academy, an exclusive private school that is burying its much-loved headmaster, Hamlet Danemark V. Most impacted by his death are his teenage son, Dane, and Dean Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia. Readers of Shakespeare know the rest of the story, but just as the Bard adapted history to suit his plays, Hutchison takes literary license as well. This is Ophelia’s story, full of her madness and passion that Shakespeare recognized but did not focus upon. She is obsessed with fulfilling her promise to Dane to stay with him always even as Dane’s madness escalates and he becomes increasingly physically and psychologically abusive towards Ophelia. Readers will recognize snippets of Hamlet’s most famous lines and passages, and Hutchison’s detailed descriptions of setting and dress lend ornateness to the narrative that is reminiscent of the Renaissance. Yet the transcendent nature of Hamlet is artfully emphasized by the contemporary characters and setting, and the reality that far too many young women are prone to Ophelia’s love-besotted mistake.”
Picture of book cover for Exit, Pursued by a BearExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Palermo Heights High School is cursed: in every graduating class, one student gets pregnant and another dies. Hermione Winters’ rising senior class has already had their death a girl killed by a drunk driver years earlier but so far, no pregnancy. For Hermione, though, this is simply the last year she will spend as one of her school’s elite cheerleaders (Kodiaks, like the bear). But at end-of-summer cheerleading camp, Hermione is drugged, raped, and impregnated. There’s plenty of fallout: rumors abound at school, and her boyfriend thinks she was asking for it, though her friend Polly stands by her. Meanwhile, a police detective’s career is made, and, somewhere, a boy has gotten away with it. But all Hermione wants is just to live her life. This takes many of its cues (and its title) from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but about halfway through, this Hermione’s tale takes a much different turn. Fierce and gorgeously drawn, this is a rape story that doesn’t focus on victimhood: Hermione suffers and abortion is portrayed frankly, but ultimately this is a story of friendship, growing up, and a girl who, despite trauma, has plenty of life left. Hermione pursues normalcy, adamant that she is not a warning, not a statue, not something to be whispered about. Just a girl. And, maybe, a bear.”
Picture of book cover for Love DisguisedLove Disguised by Lisa Klein
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Creatively interweaving fact and fiction, Klein (Ophelia, 2006) imagines Shakespeare’s youth in this immersing tale. It’s 1582, and 18-year-old Will Shakespeare longs to escape Stratford and his strict father to pursue acting and playwriting. In London on family matters, he meets teen pub-maid Meg Macdougall, an orphan, who is attempting to overcome, and conceal, her childhood by thieving and disguising herself as a boy named Mack. When Will is robbed, Meg offers Mack’s assistance. Meanwhile, pub-servant Violetta enlists Meg/Mack’s help in wooing Will, but Will and Meg start developing feelings for one another. Multiple plots unfold and, as characters converge, their experiences, individually and together, reveal the complexities of relationships, love, and the pursuit of dreams. Told in alternating stories, and employing Elizabethan theater classic-comedic devices (disguises, romantic mix-ups, etc.), Klein vividly portrays time and place in descriptive prose, rich with historical detail and archaic flavor. Will and Meg are distinctly drawn, engaging protagonists journeying toward self-discovery in this entertaining, inventive story for historical-fiction and theater fans. The abundant Shakespearean/literary allusions will resonate most with those Bard-familiar, but won’t lessen new-to-Shakespeare readers’ enjoyment.”
Picture of book cover for We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart 
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the oldest grandchild of a preeminent family. The Sinclairs have the height, the blondness, and the money to distinguish them, as well as a private island off the coast of Massachusetts called Beechwood. Harris, the family patriarch, has three daughters: Bess, Carrie, and Penny, who is Cadence’s mother. And then there is the next generation, the Liars : Cadence; Johnny, the first grandson; Mirren, sweet and curious; and outsider Gat, an Indian boy and the nephew of Carrie’s boyfriend. Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are a unit, especially during summer 15, the phrase they use to mark their fifteenth year on Beechwood the summer that Cady and Gat fall in love. When Lockhart’s mysterious, haunting novel opens, readers learn that Cady, during this summer, has been involved in a mysterious accident, in which she sustained a blow to the head, and now suffers from debilitating migraines and memory loss. She doesn’t return to Beechwood until summer 17, when she recovers snippets of memory, and secrets and lies as well as issues of guilt and blame, love and truth all come into play. Throughout the narrative, Lockhart weaves in additional fairy tales, mostly about three beautiful daughters, a king, and misfortune. Surprising, thrilling, and beautifully executed in spare, precise, and lyrical prose, Lockhart spins a tragic family drama, the roots of which go back generations. And the ending? Shhhh. Not telling. (But it’s a doozy).”
Picture of book cover for Eyes Like StarsEyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev (ebook only)
From Booklist: “Beatrice Shakespeare Smith (Bertie) has grown up in the Théâtre Illuminata, an enchanted theater governed by a magical tome, The Complete Works of the Stage. A prankster, she’s caused one upset too many and has received an ultimatum: she must prove her value to the theater or pack her bags. Along with central mysteries about her parentage, Bertie’s determined efforts to become invaluable form the basic plot in this wildly imagined adventure. The story’s supporting scaffolding is decidedly shaky; scenes change at breakneck speed, and it’s never explained in which world this theater exists. Many readers will find the missing explanations distracting; others might enjoy the existential questions they prompt. Mantchev clearly knows theater from all angles, and she uses inventive play-within-play formats to create a tumble of multiple, even metaphysical narratives filled with delicious banter and familiar characters from the dramatic canon. Many teens, particularly those with some theatrical background, will look forward to the sequel suggested at the end of this bravely flamboyant and wholly original romp.”
Picture of book cover for Foolish HeartsFoolish Hearts by Emma Mills
From Booklist: “Claudia, who generally flies under the radar at her all-girls school, isn’t planning on being there for the difficult breakup of it-couple Paige and Iris. But alas, she hears every brutal word and is confronted by angry, difficult Iris Huang herself, who threatens to ruin her if Claudia breathes a word to anyone. It doesn’t seem likely to be a problem Claudia’s not much of a gossip, and her best friend goes to another school but as their senior year starts, Claudia keeps finding herself paired with Iris. When they’re both forced to be a part of the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they develop a tentative friendship against all odds. Even as her friendship with Iris blossoms, Claudia resists growing closer to Gideon, a boy involved in the show. Mills (This Adventure Ends, 2016) offers up another realistic depiction of teen relationships. Claudia’s friendship with Iris takes center stage more than her budding romance with Gideon, and her pragmatic voice shines. A fun, thoughtful portrayal of different kinds of vulnerability.”
Picture of book cover for Death Prefers BlondesDeath Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Margo Manning: socialite, heiress . . . art thief? By day, she avoids the paparazzi, who have dubbed her Mad Margo. At night, she dons a platinum wig and commits heists with a group of drag queens. Margo, a consummate planner, eliminates any variables that may get them caught. Still, it’s a dangerous game they’re playing, and while Margo may not need the money, her friends do: Leif strains to pay the pricey tuition at his dance academy so he doesn’t have to return home to his deeply religious parents; mechanic Davon, essentially orphaned, makes ends meet by working at a drag club with his found family; and Margo’s best friend, Axel, and his younger brother, Joaquin, struggle to support their sick mother after their father is arrested for embezzlement. When the heist of a lifetime comes their way, the crew find themselves with difficult choices to make. At the same time, Margo is surrounded by upheaval in her father’s company, and she’ll need all her wiliness to navigate her way out. Roehrig (Last Seen Leaving, 2016) takes a sharp dive out of thriller territory with this high-stakes adventure. Balancing Oceans 11-level heists, corporate espionage, and gender and sexual identity politics isn’t easy, but Roehrig manages it with aplomb, skillfully threading in Hamlet references to boot. Clever, thrilling, and a wildly good time.”
Picture of book cover for As I DescendedAs I Descended by Robin Talley
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Talley (What We Left Behind) creates a dark and twisted gothic boarding school setting replete with vengeful spirits, drugs, and suicide in this Shakespeare-inspired tragedy. Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten, roommates at Virginia’s exclusive Acheron Academy, are also secretly in love. The girls plan on attending Stanford after graduation, far from disapproving parents and peers. Standing in their way is Delilah Dufrey, the school’s golden girl, who is poised to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize, which guarantees the winner full tuition to the college of their choice. Lily uses a Ouija board and Maria’s belief in the paranormal to persuade her that they should expose Deliah’s drug use, but her plans go horribly awry when the girls inadvertently release angry ghosts. Third-person narration shifts among multiple characters, revealing more to readers than they do to each other. As Talley adeptly weaves elements of horror into the narrative, she creates an ominous yet comfortable boarding school environment that lulls readers into a false sense of security while setting them up for the next chilling event.”
Picture of book cover for Dreamers Often LieDreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
From Booklist: “After six days of disorienting night terrors and throbbing hallucinations, Jaye Stuart wakes to find herself within the white walls of a hospital. Though a recent skiing incident left her with a fractured skull and maimed frontal lobe, Jaye’s physical injuries, while excruciating, are the least of her worries. Her splitting headaches and crushing fatigue are also accompanied by full-fledged delusions in the form of wholly tangible (and utterly beguiling) Shakespeare characters. Eager to return to the starring role in her high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jaye attempts to suppress her apparitions flitting fairies, the ever-icy Hamlet, and a blood-soaked floor, to name a few from those around her. But as her grip on reality skids, Jaye is forced to confront harrowing memories of her deceased father, an increasingly toxic friendship, and the perplexing pangs of first love. In a book peppered with Shakespeare’s characters and imbued with his language, Jaye is a fiercely headstrong force and West’s writing is lyrical and opulent.”
Picture of book cover for Always Never YoursAlways Never Yours by Emily Wibberley
From Booklist: “Megan, who aspires to be a theater director, is focused on finishing her senior year and fulfilling the acting requirement she needs to get into the Southern Oregon Theater Institute. Her family life is in flux (her parents are divorced), and her best friend is dating her ex, Tyler. But then she’s cast as Juliet, opposite Tyler’s Romeo. Owen, a new boy with theater aspirations of his own, enters Megan’s life, and as their friendship grows she misses all the signals that Owen might be the love she didn’t know she wanted. Real-life romantic partners Wibberly (the Last Oracle series) and Siegemund-Broka (making his YA debut) collaborated in this theater-centered novel, with a predictable will-they/won’t-they romance at its core. As Megan spends the bulk of her time with yet another guy who’s wrong for her (Will), Owen is there in the wings. The coauthors wisely balance out the romance with family drama, and Megan’s commitment to a future life in the theater will please readers who share a similar love of Shakespeare and want a little romance to go with their drama”
Picture of book cover for The Steep and Thorny WayThe Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Hanalee Denney’s father has been haunting the crossroads of Elston, Oregon, right where Joe Adder ran him down in his Model T after a night out drinking. Now that Joe’s out of prison, Hanalee’s ready to get her revenge, but before she can fire the bullet home, Joe convinces her to take a closer look at her stepfather, Uncle Clyde, who married her mother quickly after her father’s death. If that plot sounds vaguely Shakespearian, you wouldn’t be wrong. Winters retells Hamlet in a grandly realized Prohibition-era Oregon setting, featuring biracial Hanalee in the title role, while the prejudices of the day simmer in the background. Compellingly, Winters doesn’t cleave faithfully to the Hamlet story. Instead, Hanalee discovers something far more rotten than a murderous uncle: the KKK are eager to rid Oregon of anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideals, and Hanalee, along with her parents and Joe Adder, is at the top of their list. Hanalee’s investigation of her father’s murder and her growing friendship with Joe are engrossing enough, but Winters amplifies the story by weaving Oregon’s troubling true history state-sanctioned discrimination, eugenics, forced sterilization throughout the tale, adding weighty, unsettling context to the slow-burning mystery. A powerful, gripping, and exceptionally well-executed glimpse into a little-known corner of U.S. history.”

Except as noted, annotations are supplied from the SELCO catalog