Ranulfo. Joker. Harper Teen, 2006. ISBN 978-0060541583 208 pp. $12
If you liked Baz Lurhman’s film retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, you’ll LOVE this version of Hamlet, “cracked” by Australian author Ranulfo. Modeled nearly act for act after the Bard’s tragedy, the novel is set in the post-September 11th “kingdom” of Elsinore High and features Matt, a boy of Danish ancestry. His mother has recently taken up with his father’s close associate Claude, driving the poor man nearly mad and causing him to haunt his once happy home and implore his son to kill his competition
Matt’s struggling with his parent’s destroyed relationship (and the recent loss of his best buddy, Ray)… so of course, he takes it out on his sweet girlfriend, Leah… His madness mainfests as Joker, an alter ego who pervades his thoughts and is a catalyst for his darkest thoughts and actions, leading him to contemplate suicide. The story is a familiar one, told in a jumble of hallucinations, rap, blog entry, and dialogue besides traditional narrative.
Characters are recognizable from the original. Moral Polonius appears as Leah’s dad – the high school principal. Matt moves out of his house, hooking up with former classmates Roscoe and Guido in a tent city, and wandering across the grave of Rick Yo, before founding his theatre of truth, peopled with misfits.
The flow is smooth, the voice is smooth, and the story riveting and accessible. Although not told in old English or riddled with quotes from Hamlet, there are many clever and fitting allusions to other works by Shakespeare, citing Rosalind from As You Like It, and referencing the sonnet “Venus and Adonis,” to name a few. Pair with the play for best results.