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11 Drama-Filled Teen Novels Inspired by Shakespeare Plays

by Iva-Marie Palmer


Long before there was John Hughes, Judy Blume, or any other recent chronicler of the teen experience and the sundry joys and pains that go with it, there was William Shakespeare. In his plays, he tackled young adult angst, love, and lust as it played out in tragic relationships, parental power struggles, and plain old frothy flirtation. So, of course, the Bard’s stories are ripe for reenactment on the pages of teen novels, and these 11 books prove the timelessness of his genius.

  • Tempestuous

    by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

    Miranda Prospero never held much regard for the misfits employed at the mall until a mistake finds her at work with them. Then she finds a way to exact her revenge when a snowstorm locks people in the mall, including the nasty clique that got her stuck in this mess. This take on The Tempest from Askew and Helmes highlights how Shakespeare excelled at stories of teen angst, long before YA was a category.

  • Dreamers Often Lie

    by Jacqueline West

    After a skiing accident leaves her with a fractured skull and a loosening grip on reality, Jaye decides to lie and say she’s fine in order to get back to her starring role in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. But she’s battling hallucinations of Shakespeare and his characters that have followed her from the hospital to the halls of her school. When Romeo shows up in her anatomy class, Jaye finds the line between reality and delusion continuing to blur as her life tangles darkly with Shakespeare’s famous play.

  • Saving Hamlet

    by Molly Booth

    There is perhaps no one better than Booth — cohost of the “Party Bard” podcast — to pen a Shakespeare-influenced teen novel. Emma, stage manager for her high school’s production of Hamlet, thinks her peers’ performance is doomed … until she falls through a stage trap door and into the production at London’s Globe Theater. The original 1601 production. Suddenly, she’s switching between two realities, and two cursed Hamlets, in a dilemma well suited to the Bard himself.

  • Babe in Boyland

    by Jody Gehrman

    Gehrman has found much inspiration in the Bard’s plays, particularly in Shakespeare’s female characters who disguised themselves as men, like Portia of The Merchant of Venice. Babe in Boyland finds a girl entering uncharted territory — the mind of a boy — by posing as a boy. In this contemporary novel, Natalie is her school’s advice columnist and she has been accused of giving bad advice because she knows nothing about guys. To get the inside scoop, she goes inside: to a boys’ boarding school, where she starts falling for her dreamy roommate. A great fit for readers who like their drama to come with comic relief.

  • Falling for Hamlet

    by Michelle Ray

    This contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy looks at the story from Ophelia’s point of view. She’s the well-known girlfriend to Prince Hamlet and daughter of the Danish king’s most trusted adviser, and that comes with a price: constant intrusion by her boyfriend’s family and always being in the public eye. This one is great for teens who’d like to see an Ophelia with greater control of her destiny.

  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear

    by E.K. Johnston

    Also available from:

    Hermione Winters, whose story arc draws comparison with that of Queen Hermione in A Winter’s Tale, is at the top of her game as a competitive cheerleader at her high school. But when she attends a party at summer camp and someone slips a drug into her drink when she’s not looking, everything changes. After that night, she must cope with what comes in the wake of her sexual assault, including an unexpected pregnancy. Powerful, heartbreaking, beautiful, and inspiring, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is best suited for mature teen readers.

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  • The Taming of the Drew

    by Stephanie Kate Strohm

    Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew helped pave the way to what we now know as contemporary romantic comedy (to wit, the film “Ten Things I Hate About You”). In Strohm’s version, Cass — a girl happy to be called stubborn, temperamental, and, well, other things — is cast as the lead in a summer theater production of The Taming of the Shrew, only to learn that her co-star Drew is a nightmare. So Cass decides to use art as inspiration and sets out to tame Drew into a more palatable love interest.

  • As I Descended

    by Robin Talley

    The wicked world of Macbeth, with its devious plans and power grabs (both political and supernatural), are ripe territory for high school. In this retelling, couple Lily Boiten and Maria Lyon have everything figured out, except how to unseat campus superstar Delilah Dufrey. They’ll pull no punches in bringing her down though, and when they tap into a dark power, nothing is simple: not even reality.

  • Ophelia

    by Lisa Klein

    What if Ophelia, the tragic young woman of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, hadn’t died? Klein’s novel poses the question and answers it, putting Ophelia more firmly in charge of her own destiny as she flees Elsinore, while hiding a dangerous secret. Set to release this year as a motion picture starring Daisy Ridley, Klein’s book helps to demonstrate the rich ideas spawned by Shakespeare’s gripping characters.

  • Speak Easy, Speak Love

    by McKelle George

    Set in 1920s Long Island, this teen retelling of Much Ado About Nothing is a treat. With the mob’s activities (and speakeasies) providing heightened intrigue, Beatrice and Benedick’s witty jousting, and developing romance, is sure to both transport and charm readers. (Roaring-’20s-meets-Shakespeare costume party, anyone?)

  • Speak of Me as I Am

    by Sonia Belasco

    Damon and Melanie don’t really know one another, but when they start working on their high school production of Othello, they find that they have a lot in common. Namely, they’ve each recently lost someone very dear to them. Told from both of their points of view, Speak of Me as I Am presents a contemporary story of grief, friendship, and the healing power of artistic expression.

What Shakespeare-inspired YA novels are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!