Twelfth Grade Night (Arden High #1) by Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm & Jamie Green

Shakespeare and I have a love-hate relationship, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Twelfth Night due to its hapless heroine Viola. I’ve even seen the play presented once professionally, in Malaysia. The production was pretty great, and the story overall less ridiculous than some others of the Bard’s (not that that’s saying much, tbqhwy.)

But how well does the 17th century play do when transplanted to the 21st century? Really well in some parts, tho any flaws in this graphic novel adaptation, set in a modern-day high school (with very neat paranormal elements!), I lay squarely at the feet of Shakespeare himself.

We start with new girl Viola Messina, who’s thrilled to get away from her old private boarding school so she can dress the way she likes at the local public school, Arden High. She thought her twin brother Sebastian was going to come with her, but at the last minute he decides to stay at St Anne’s, leaving her feeling lonely and friendless as she walks into her new school. Fortunately, Tanya, Queen of the Fairies and leader of Arden High’s social committee, is on hand to help show her around.

Vi literally bumps into hot poet and influencer Orsino in the cafeteria, and the two strike up a friendship. As Vi develops a crush on him, she doesn’t realize that he thinks she’s a lesbian. Thus, he thinks it’s totally fine to ask her to ask her new friend Olivia if Olivia will go to the dance with him. But Olivia — who also thinks Vi is into girls — has a crush on Vi. Shenanigans ensue.

The story hews pretty closely to Shakespeare’s original, tho adds delightful little fillips from his other works to pepper the proceedings. And overall it works really well, and is perhaps even better suited for contemporary mores than the Elizabethan era. That said, I’m impressed by how very straight Vi is, given her ability to not fall for the incredibly charismatic and delightful Olivia (tho perhaps I just found Orsino underwhelming. He just feels like a try-hard to me.) I also liked how the authors tweaked the ending for Olivia’s love life post-Viola, as well as Sebastian’s.

The only place where the book didn’t super ring true was in Orsino’s own romantic awakening, so to speak, which wasn’t quite insta-love but felt quite borderline. Ofc, this is hardly Twelfth Grade Night’s fault, as the original is also very much like this. And given how well this graphic novel fixes all the other flaws in the original, one can’t be too mad that it can’t also improve on Orsino deciding that he’d (spoiler for the few of you unfamiliar with the original) been in love with Vi all along.

I love that this is the first in a series (and I also love that Disney Hyperion handed out full-color proofs) because I really want to see where this creative team goes with the rest of it. Speaking of, I’m a big fan of Jamie Green’s expressive art, with its diverse body types and excellent use of color. To which, thank you again, Hyperion! I get why publishers put out black and white proofs, but full-color really makes it easier to evaluate the art.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys modern interpretations of Shakespeare a/o complicated high-school romances. It’s a terrific way to start off the series, and I’m excited to read more!

Twelfth Grade Night by Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm & Jamie Green was published today October 11 2022 by Disney-Hyperion and is available from all good booksellers, including

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