“Sentenced to Shakespeare” is a contemporary young adult novel set in suburban New Jersey. The story revolves around Leah, a smart and sensitive 15-year-old girl who is pushed too far by a bully and snaps. Arrested for assault and battery, Leah is sentenced to an unusual form of rehabilitation—she must take and complete a Shakespeare workshop or else risk incarceration. Ostracized by her classmates, abandoned by her only friend, Leah finds comfort and solidarity with the other juvenile offenders in this same program, with one offering her something she’s never experienced before—love.
Targeted Age Group:: 14 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The story is loosely inspired by the real-life Shakespeare in the Courts program in the Berkshires, in which juvenile offenders, ages 13-17, are sentenced to take a Shakespeare workshop as a condition of their probation; if they fail to complete the workshop, they risk possible incarceration. I first became familiar with the program (which began nearly 20 years ago) when I was editor-in-chief of a theater trade publication. The premise that at-risk youths could find their salvation in iambic pentameter was a fascinating notion.The program is the brainchild of a now retired juvenile court judge and Shakespeare & Company, a renowned classical theater troupe in the Berkshires. I wrote a story about the program for my magazine and followed up with them a few years later. Originally, I considered writing a nonfiction book on the program but later switched to fiction as I felt that writing the story within a young adult novel structure would be more accessible (and entertaining) to readers.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
As I conducted my research into the Shakespeare in the Courts program, fictionalized in my novel as “Garden State Bard” (which does not exist), I learned there were several distinguishing traits among the teens who ended up “sentenced to Shakespeare.” Firstly, many were not textbook cliches: they did not come from dysfunctional or toxic families nor were they disadvantaged. Secondly, quite a few were good students who had never been in trouble before until, they were, just like Leah, the 15-year-old protagonist in my novel “Sentenced to Shakespeare,” pushed to the brink by a bully. I wanted to create characters that were the living synthesis of my research–to disabuse stereotypes and notions people might have about the kinds of teens who end up getting into trouble and find themselves “sentenced to Shakespeare.”
With each insult, Leah felt like she was shrinking more into herself until there was nothing left but a shell of a person.
Then, there were the prank phone calls: the stupid breathing, the hang-ups, and the taunting texts, each a deeper stab in the heart.
“Hey, hottie! How many boyfriends do you have?”
“Don’t you vomit when you look at yourself in a mirror?”
“You really are a joke. I’d kill myself if I were you.”
It got to a point where Leah couldn’t cry anymore. Either her tear ducts were worn out from crying so much or she was numb. And, even if she did cry, that would only make Dede and her followers ridicule her even more.
Sometimes, if the weather was permitting, Leah would hide near the local VFW hall rather than go to
school, which was within walking distance to her house. It was safe to play truant there as usually, no one was around on the weekdays. Within the bowels of a staircase that’d slope into the subterranean entrance of the building, she’d seek refuge. Her legs splayed out on the concrete, Leah would huddle in the corner, staring at her watch, waiting for each minute to pass into the oblivion of another minute until she knew her parents were out of the house and on their way to work. Then she’d return to the safety of her home, away from Dede and the harassment. Free and happy.
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