Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 19, 2017
Genres: Historical, Historical Fiction, Retellings, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 432 pages Source: Amazon
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After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer.
Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother, John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.
This was a book I was either bound to love or hate. It’s like a new movie with a lot of big name actors. It’ll either be wonderful or absolute ridiculousness riding on the power of its stars. Speak Easy, Speak Love has a lot of elements I like – it’s set in the 1920s and it’s based on Much Ado About Nothing. That’s my favorite Shakespeare play – a great comedy and light romance with a lot of wit instead of the usual foolishness. Add the glitz and glamour of a ’20s speakeasy, and there are a lot of promises.
For about the first 100 pages, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Speak Easy, Speak Love and it was breaking my heart. There were places I was sure it was going to try and follow Much Ado with its character names and strange twists to the point of distraction. It took me about 30% of the book to sit back and enjoy the ride, instead of scrutinizing. After that, it was a breeze!
Speak Easy, Speak Love follows the general story of Much Ado About Nothing, but it’s been brought to the times, which I appreciated once I acclimated. The characters still have their basic personalities intact – Claude is very white collar, John is a bit sneaky, Hero is self-important, Bea is smart but abrasive, Ben is a bit egotistical and grumpy but not unkind. They’re a good collection of characters and I felt George was really loyal to their original personas.
One of the things I appreciate the most about Speak Easy, Speak Love was its integration into the 1920s. Most books set in this era tend to overplay the flapper angle. This book made use of the growing Italian mobs of the period, Charles Lindbergh’s flight, the women’s liberation front, influential writers of the era, as well as flappers and prohibition. It’s just loaded with historical gems. In her notes at the back of the book, McKelle George apologies for a few inconsistencies where she moved historical events forward or back – down to the death of a wealthy businessman – but overall… if you’re not an historian, you won’t notice anything is misplaced. She’s brought the 1920s and all their promise beautifully to life.
While much of the romantic plot followed Much Ado, there were aspects that caught me by surprise. Ben’s decision at the end of the book? I totally didn’t see that coming. Also I loved the Dogberry and Verges characters. Add the fact they were based on REAL people who behaved… quite a bit like that? That was the coolest. My bookworm/historian heart was so happy.
Generally speaking, I very much loved this book for everything it was. I’m a bit disappointed in myself that I got hung up on some of my own earlier comparisons, but it really wrapped me up and ended up being the fun story I wanted it to be. If you’re a fan of the play, I recommend this. I doubly recommend it if you’re a fan of really well-written YA historical fiction. Absolutely fantastic.
Speak Easy, Speak Love stays on my shelf
I feel like I wasted the first hundred pages of this book comparing it to Much Ado About Nothing rather than letting it breathe on its own. Retrospectively, that was such a waste. I definitely want to revisit this and take it all in as its own person, so to speak. Additionally, since there are six active characters, I know I missed something. I was really focused on Bea and Ben, then Maggie… I know I missed stuff with Hero. It’s definitely something I need to go back and explore more.
What is your favorite time period in history? While I don’t think I’d like to live then, there was so much going on in the ’20s that changed the way of life here in America… I think it’s so cool. Tell me your favorite time period in the comments!