Review by Jennifer Irvine
Quirk Books, Penguin Random House, April 2019
164 pages, paperback, $15.99 CAD, 978-1-68369-117-4
Ages 14+, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Script
Come hither, folly-fallen Cady, come!
We shall anon until the shopping mall.
Regina, like a doll I never had
By name of Barbie with her winsome Ken
Is glamorous and elegant sans peer.
I’ll go withal to make her favor grow.
[Cady gets in the car with Regina, Gretchen, and Karen. They begin driving.]
Another lass is, by Regina, trapp’d
Into a world of lipsticks, hair, and nails.
This Cady seem’d far different before
Yet now I wonder what the lass shall be.
The timeless tale of teenage rivalry, jealousy, and social hierarchy—all delivered with a cruelty that only teens can spoon out—keeps this narrative feisty. Author Ian Doescher morphs the iconic movie Mean Girls into a Shakespearean play, complete with five acts, numerous scenes, and stage directions.
The plot appears to be exactly the same as the movie. Cady Heron has come to North Shore High from Africa, where she was home-schooled. As she tries to integrate into North American teenage life, she meets her future BFFs Damian, who is kind and generous, and Janis, who is bright and quick. Alas, they are among the lower-tier of pitiful unpopular students. Above all these wretches are the cool-girl trio known as The Plastics made up of beautiful but cruel Regina, gorgeous but not-so-bright Karen, and rich flunky Gretchen. Their viciousness knows no boundaries. At one point, The Plastics see Gretchen’s crush Jason cavorting with fellow classmate Taylor at the local shopping mall. Regina immediately calls Taylor’s mother, pretending to be calling from Planned Parenthood with news of her daughter’s pregnancy.
They are also the authors of The Burn Book, a collection of brutal and ruthless reflections on their classmates, including entries like Trang Pak is “a grotsky little byotch” and Dawn Schweitzer is “a virgin maid of massive girth.” Cady sums the book up nicely by saying, “This Burn Book tactless, fill’d with spirit mean.” Janis, “a cunning young woman” wants everyone at North Shore High to know how awful The Plastics actually are and convinces Cady to infiltrate the clique in order to steal the tome.
Even though it’s told using the classic Elizabethan prose, I found it easy to understand the characters’ classic high-school discussions of appropriate clothing to wear, where to sit in the cafeteria, and the right people to be cavorting with. Teenage body dysmorphia runs rampant in the comments about someone’s inability to wear a halter top because of “manly shoulders,” a “bizarre hairline,” and “disastrous nailbeds.” These descriptions help to give an old-fashioned play a modern and hilarious tone.
All of the characters are listed at the front of the book, along with brief descriptions of their personalities. Gretchen is “a troubled young woman,” and Karen is “a doltish young woman.” There is a great appendix at the end, which explains that a number of the female characters were modelled after popular Shakespeare women. Cady is Miranda from The Tempest, Janis is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, and Regina is Kate from The Taming of the Shrew. I caught the Regina/Kate resemblance, but that was it. However, the appendix is a valuable addition for readers who might want to suss out the original plays from which these characters were derived.
Kent Barton’s illustrations are a welcome respite from the sometimes-daunting prose revealing the large, thick binder that is the Burn Book, it’s back cover smothered in lipstick kisses, a scene of the cafeteria with The Plastics and Cady in Elizabethan dress or the prom queen with her crown on.
Although skillfully adhering to the Bard’s traditional script, with an impeccable attention to detail, I still wonder how many teenagers and young adults will seek out this full-on Shakespearean-style play. Teachers are an additional audience for this book because it could help to make Shakespearean English more accessible to their students. Other than that, it would be easier to watch the movie or even read Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman whither this story did originate.
JENNIFER IRVINE is currently working towards a BFA in Creative Writing at UBC where she writes fiction, YA and is even dabbling in graphic novel writing. She has been published in York University’s Existere Magazine and UBC’s online Garden Statuary Magazine.