by Katie Moran
(ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion)
Readers should expect to encounter periods of reflection and nostalgia about the wonderfully fleeting moments of adolescence and of summer, as they read Molly Booth’s wonderful second novel Nothing Happened. In this retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, we are transported back to summer camp. Camp Dogberry is full of the drama you’d find in Shakespeare’s original production as Booth has done an impressive job of preserving all of the components of the original story and its characters. As the novel unfolds, we are bewitched by the Leonato sisters, Bee and Hana, who are both dealing with figuring out who they love, and how to navigate their lives as sisters and as individuals.
Young adult literature has begun to really embrace and explore queer identities and themes. Most often in YA literature, we find delineations and character struggles between the hetero/queer identities. The majority of novels address ‘coming out’ and the obstacles that queer characters face. Nothing Happened goes so much further than this binary. Booth has constructed a cast of characters who serve as incredibly true and believable representations of the real inner struggle that takes place in those trying to learn who they are, where they feel comfortable existing, and how to accept themselves.
We are introduced to Hana early on whose endeavor to figure out whether she identifies more as pansexual or bisexual is brought to light over the course of the novel. The inclusion of such a character should be applauded and celebrated. There is no ‘coming out’ story here, at least not one that works in the way that we have come to recognize in literature. It is imperative that an enlightening can be reached, a threshold breached, broadening and aiding in the understanding that sexuality exceeds the verbal categorizations we’ve created, that it is truly so much more than the labels we give it. Alongside Hana, we are introduced to her love interest, Claudia, who is unapologetically queer. However, there is no fanfare or moment of ‘acceptance’. Claudia, and Hana as the novel progresses, are queer and that’s that. They both face an inner turmoil, but it comes more from accepting their love for each other, as individuals, than it comes from accepting their love for each other, as women.
Bee, Hana’s sister and a key player in the novel, tackles a few other big themes through her construction. Bee is adopted, originally born in Ethiopia though we are given no real background only that it was “a love at first sight kind of deal” for her sister and adoptive parents. The integration of adoption, as a social construction and also a matter of fact part of the Leonato family, is flawlessly done and fluidly adds another level to the diversity and uniqueness of the characters. Knowing Bee is from Ethiopia doesn’t overwhelm the story by any means but adds an integral piece of knowledge and supports the inclusiveness Booth has created in her novel.
Booth doesn’t stop there. She also tackles toxic masculinity, in the form of John whose unrequited love for Hana drives his storyline. He allows his rage and the ‘unfairness’ of her disinterest in him to lead his decisions. This ultimately results in John reflecting on his choices and on his understanding of the world around him. Hana also struggles with her mental health throughout the novel. Again, Booth manages to incorporate a ‘hot topic’ that many authors are addressing in a seamless and realistic way. There is, of course, a need for diversity and inclusion in literature, as well as a need to directly confront certain issues – queer identities, mental health, etc – however, Booth’s decision to just accept these aspects of her characters as ‘normal’ feels so very real to readers. It reminds us that none of these things necessarily make you different, they just make you human.
The novel tackles a first-person narration for a large number of characters. This type of writing is incredibly difficult and requires a specific skill to maintain an authority over each character. The novels form and writing should be commended as there were minimal moments, if any at all, where the story became jumbled or misunderstood. Booth’s technique is razor sharp and impeccably delivered even with the growing number of points of view that she juggles. Each character had their own distinguished voice that made the chapter and character shifts ultimately seamless.
The story plays out over 325 pages of adolescent drama and intrigue. The idyllic, goofy, and all-encompassing adventures and misadventures of summer camp are alive in these pages and Booth has presented us, the readers, with an open invitation into Camp Dogberry so that we may struggle, laugh, cheer and grow with the many characters of Nothing Happened.