I’m happy to review this book today, as I got to “meet” the authors with my first Ask the Author chat earlier this year! You can check all that out at this link but definitely stick around for this review. YA fans will have lots to love in this fun read, and Shakespeare lovers get a brand-new look at everyone’s favourite mischievous fairy!
Puck (Twisted Lit #4) by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
Life isn’t always fair, and no one knows that better than fifteen-year-old Puck. When she’s unceremoniously booted from yet another foster home, this city kid lands at DreamRoads, a rehabilitation wilderness camp. Her fellow juvenile delinquents include a famous pop star with a diva attitude, a geeky, “fish out of water” math whiz, and a surly gang-banger with a chip on his shoulder. The program’s steely director aims to break Puck, but she knows that every adult has a breaking point, too. Determined to defy this realm of agonizing nature hikes and soul-sucking psychobabble — even if that means manipulating four lovestruck camp counselors and the director’s dim-witted second-in-command — Puck ultimately gets much more than she bargains for in this “wondrous strange” outdoor odyssey inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Puck is a problem kid, in more ways than one. Bouncing from one foster home to the next, she thinks she’s finally found a more secure place but then her foster mom sends her to a wilderness camp that promises to tame her behaviour. Reeling from that betrayal and broken trust, Puck begins to plot a way out of the camp, though where she’ll go from there she’s not sure.
As the blurb above mentions, and as you can probably figure out from the MC’s unique name, this book is based off of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and each chapter begins with a quote from the play. However, the authors don’t set out to simply retell the same story, though it will feel familiar. There’s still a love square (? is that how to describe it?), a play within a play, the use of nature, and of course Puck causing mass chaos, but in this reincarnation the story feels fresh and somehow manages to be unpredictable despite knowing how it will end.
While I don’t think Puck is an ignored character in the play by any means, he’s certainly not the main focus so I loved that these authors decided to develop the fairy’s backstory and figure out what made him tick. The YA genre seems perfectly suited to this venture, as rather than causing trouble purely for fun, the authors bring in subjects of childhood abuse and juvenile delinquency to explain Puck’s behaviour. Puck is developed much further than the play allows and we’re able to explore the ‘why’ behind her actions.
Now, that last paragraph may seem a little confusing, because I refer to Shakespeare’s Puck as ‘he’ and this new Puck as ‘she’. She is referred to as a ‘she’ in the book but I liked how the authors allowed for Puck’s gender to be more fluid. The character’s birth name is Robin but she chooses to go by Puck, and in her dress and appearance doesn’t present overtly feminine. I can’t say how Puck identifies because that isn’t directly covered in the book but she does seem to be comfortable in her ambiguity. I think the same can be said of the original character too, who works off that ambiguity as well.
Many other familiar characters appear in the book too, as well as some I couldn’t place. I’m not sure if this is because they were the authors’ invention or I just didn’t remember! Either way I think it’s worth reading the play before the book so you catch all the little details. Each character resembles their Shakespeare counterparts but in this setting they also get to be developed more and each got to have their own little quirks, like the girl who uses irony without understanding its meaning and the counselor who’s so eager to please he seems like a young child. The quirks aren’t necessary to the plot but I enjoyed getting to learn more about each character and it certainly added to the humour of the story.
Edit: I just looked up the characters from the play and there is so much wordplay in the book that I didn’t notice at all! Mia/Hermia, Ellen/Helena, Xander/Lysander: man, how did I miss this! Definitely read the play first, or at least watch the movie so you can pick up on these little tie-ins. I mean, if you don’t like Shakespeare, don’t feel obliged. You can definitely still follow the story without knowing the original; it’s just an added bonus to try and see all the ways this new story relates back.
Probably my favourite part of the book, and what made it so enjoyable, was the humour. Even with, or perhaps because of, the heavy themes the characters are dealing with, it was still a funny read and a number of times I caught myself laughing out loud! It always impresses me when this kind of dialogue can come across so naturally (and honestly what makes a good read great to me), and as this story involved a group of teenagers stuck together, it’s very likely they’d be cracking jokes to pass the time. My favourite jokester was Puck (big surprise!), who was full of sarcastic quips at any moment. One of our first introductions to her sets the scene for what’s to come from this troublesome kid,
“My name is Puck,” I say in a helpful tone. “Rhymes with–” (pg. 9)
What’s not to love? In all seriousness though, the book also very smartly covers the deeper issues at work here. Though Puck wants to brush off this camp as a money-grab, the counselors are actively trying to help these kids. One quote in particular really stood out to me,
“Surviving is one thing, Puck . . . Living is something else entirely.” (pg. 181)
The book does deal with heavy topics, just so future readers are aware. Each of the kids in the camp have things they’re dealing with, from abuse to drugs to sexual assault, and these are developed in more detail near the end of the book. Nothing is depicted directly but it is talked about in therapy sessions and through memories. Luckily, as the kids are at a camp that is meant to help them with these issues, the conversation is focused on alleviating the guilt they feel and helping them work through it, but I understand this could still be triggering to some readers so avoid if need be. If you’d like to know more to figure out if this is the book for you, feel free to email me and I can provide more detail.
The authors have done many others “rewrites” of Shakespeare plays for their Twisted Lit series so visit their links below to learn more about those! Thank you to both for allowing me the chance to read and review your book, and once more for participating in our Twitter chat!
About the Authors: Los Angeles-based writers and bffs Kim Askew and Amy Helmes have been writing together since 2007. Askew’s work has appeared in Elle, The Wall Street Journal, and other magazines as well as the anthology The May Queen. Helmes is the author of several books, including The Wisdom of Nancy Drew and Betty and Veronica: A Girl’s Guide to the ‘Comic’ World of Dating. Her essay “Searching for Mr. Darcy” was featured in the Los Angeles Times.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own