Review of Enter the Body

Enter the Body
by Joy McCullough
High School    Dutton    336 pp.
3/23    9780593406755    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593406762    $10.99

In this inventive novel that includes elements of verse and script (including some prose in the form of stage directions), McCullough (We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire, rev. 7/21) reimagines the fates of several of Shakespeare’s famous female teen protagonists. In Part One, readers are introduced to Juliet, Ophelia, Cordelia, and Lavinia, who dwell as spectral embodiments in a purgatorial “trap room,” the space “beneath all the stages, anywhere.” Lavinia, whose tongue is cut out by attackers in one of Shakespeare’s first plays, serves as a silent symbol of women who have lost the ability to control their own narratives. Each of the other girls recounts her original plot in verse, up to a pivotal point in the story, in a signature narrative style. Juliet’s verse is free and passionate, Ophelia’s dreamy and verdant, Cordelia’s precise and pragmatic. In Part Two, the girls engage in lively dialogue in play form, anachronistically debating one another’s motives, feelings, assumptions, and faults, finally coming to the question: “What if we dared to tell our versions?” In Part Three, each imagines what would have happened had one crucial aspect of her story been changed, with, for example, spirited Juliet claiming a full happy ending by remaining alive and marrying Romeo. This shifting, experimental format will surprise and challenge readers’ ideas of storytelling and “classic” literature. By innovatively mining feminist themes of autonomy, exploitation, and patriarchy, McCullough boldly reconceptualizes Shakespeare’s version of the female point of view for a new generation of Bard enthusiasts.

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer Hubert Swan

Jennifer Hubert Swan is the library department chair and upper school librarian at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at Pratt Institute School of Information, where she teaches youth literature and library programming. She blogs at Reading Rants.

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