This bold and bawdy first novel introduces Shakespeare Shapiro, whose very name seems to destine him for a life of farce (that his parents offer changing but invariably embarrassing explanations for his whacko moniker merely compounds matters). Now that he's taking the memoir-writing class required of all seniors at Ernest Hemingway High, he seizes the chance to frame his life as a darkly comedic series of humiliations, from being born on Hitler's birthday ("Whenever I did anything wrong, my father would call me Adolf") to his father's blackmail techniques ("I'm about ten seconds away from telling you things [about our sex life] that will haunt you for the rest of your life," his father cheerfully threatens an 11-year-old Shakespeare) to his misadventures in masturbating. Wizner knows just how to set up his outrageous jokes and how far to push most (not all) of them; and nothing seems off-limits, neither religion nor sex nor bowel movements. This author demonstrates an equally sure approach to sober themes: as his memoir assignments win him increasing respect and interest from his classmates, Shakespeare slowly realizes that the role of comic victim is one he has chosen in order to avoid challenging himself. Exceptionally funny and smart. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
It seems unfair that the years in which kids are most sensitive to anxiety and humiliation, rage and depression, isolation and boredom, are the very years those emotions tend to be most brutally provoked, largely by the chemistry of changing bodies but all too often by parents, peers and teachers. That is what makes high school so awful. This is a self-consciously ironic story about the awfulness of high school, the emptiness of fantasy, the frustrations of family, and how all of these trials are experienced by a boy whose first name is Shakespeare. Like most high schoolers, he takes himself much too seriously, wallows in self-pity, and never opens himself to another person. Unlike most, he likes to write. The story is told in the first person and divided into sections of narrative interspersed with sections representing his written work. Often funny, the book is also at times irritating (at least to this old man who attended high school so long ago he has forgotten why he hated it). It is Jake Wizner’s first book. He has a wonderful voice and, while he depends more than he needs to on vulgarity and devices like an unusually named hero, one character in particular gives us reason to look forward to his next book. She’s the daughter of a suicide victim whose father is only half a father and whose younger brother’s behavior nearly prevents her graduation. The contrast between her very real difficulties and the hero’s largely imagined problems, yield a soft and engaging insight into how and why so many survive such awful years. Reviewer: Michael Chabin
VOYA - Cynthia L. Winfield
In his senior memoir for Hemingway High, Shakespeare Shapiro casts himself as the hapless victim of dysfunctional parents, humiliating school incidents, a virile libido frustrated by social inhibitions, and his socially savvy, popular younger brother, Gandhi. With spring's project deadline looming, Shakespeare drafts personal essays that appear interspersed with the academic year's narrative. Wizner's witty, poignant first novel recounts Shakespeare's angst-laden story of college applications (twenty-three, ranging from unrealistic to safety schools), potential love interests (including safeties), and friendships (two: Neil, a self-absorbed, scatological conversationalist, and Katie, cynical and verbally abusive). From the wry opening-"consider the implications of a name like Shakespeare"-through parental trials and finally graduation, where his memoir 17 Down receives a coveted honorable mention, it is a hilarious read. A high school freshman "test driving" the book for this reviewer observed, "This is an embarrassing book to read," and then resisted all attempts to pry him from its pages. Recommended for older teens and even adults, it is extremely well-suited to boys, although that same freshman reader thinks that girls would also appreciate it. Baby boomers on down will relish Shakespeare's one experience with marijuana, getting high for the first time and having forgotten the family gathering scheduled for that evening. When his bizarre behavior prompts his mother to ask if he is high and he answers truthfully, he suddenly gains prestige in Gandhi's eyes. Raw, sexual, cynical, and honest, this book belongs on library shelves and gift lists.
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up After 17 years with an awful name, little luck, and a nonexistent love life, Shakespeare Shapiro hopes to win a coveted writing award and finally get laid. Wizner endows his narrator with a hilarious, self-deprecating comedic voice that makes readers forgive traces of self-pity. The teen's humor finds resonance in reality, as he airs dirty adolescent laundry for laughs. He offers an unshirking satire of tipsy parents, bowel-obsessed friends, erections, porn, bong hits, drunken mistakes, and unfortunate dates. Angst-riddled teens, particularly boys, will find mortifying situations to which they can intimately relate and a bit of absolution. Clever readers will see two tables of contents and realize that the book alternates between Shakespeare's contest submission and another novel covering his senior year. Other imaginative embellishments in format make Shakespeare, an already wonderfully developed character, feel all the more real. Gray smudges and the ghostly image of plastic spiral binding suggest that the teen slaved over a copy machine to create the book. It is easy to picture him obsessing over binding his publication, as he focuses on himself for the entire novel. When he falls for another finalist, however, a girl whose world poses very real, very tough challenges, his life suddenly doesn't seem so bad. Laughs alone make this effort successful, but Wizner allows Shakespeare to grow and learn just a little, too-an extraordinary feat for such a raucous read.-Shelley Huntington, New York Public Library
King of comedy Shakespeare Shapiro spins essays, poetry, letters and yearbook entries to chronicle the ups, downs, crushes, mishaps, perversions and general sense of hilarious melee that comprise his senior year. Infamously named by his hippie, occasionally alcoholic parents-his brother's name is Gandhi-his adventures don't veer too far off the usual teenage-boy-coming-of-age track. However, Wizner infuses his voice with an over-the-top, biting wit that punches his seemingly sane life episodes into knee-slapping, lewd-icrous territory. His lusts become blunter with every horny thought he lays down on paper. His best friend becomes far more scatologically inclined than any other teenaged boy to hit the young-adult market, and his yearnings for another budding essayist named Charlotte cause him to spout forth some utterly cheesy rhymes in pursuit of her favor. Alternating between Shakespeare's reality and his writing, Wizner's first novel packs the stitches in tight. Readers wishing he could get on with the story will most likely begin rolling their eyes at the main character's expounding after the first 100 pages, but they'll still be laughing. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“Exceptionally funny and sweet.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
“This brilliantly lewd novel is hilarious.”—Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
17 Down What’s In A Name? It’s hard to imagine what my parents were thinking when they decided to name me Shakespeare. They were probably drunk, considering the fact that my father is an alcoholic and my mother gets loopy after one glass of wine. I’ve given up asking them about it because neither of them is able to remember anything anymore, and the stories they come up with always leave me feeling like it might not be so bad to dig a hole in the backyard and hide out there until I leave for college next year. That is, if I get into college.
My mom used to tell me that she and my father put the names of history’s greatest writers and artists and musicians into a bowl and decided I would be named for whoever they pulled out. “I was hoping for van Gogh,” she said.
“Didn’t he cut his ear off?” I asked.
“Yes,” my mother said dreamily, stroking the side of my face. “To give to the woman he loved.”
My dad remembers that he and my mom always talked about giving me an “S–H” name to match the “S–H” of our last name, Shapiro. “We thought about Sherlock, Shaquille, and Shaka Zulu before we settled on Shakespeare.”
“You really wanted to make my life miserable, didn’t you?” I asked.
My father licked the rim of his martini glass. “That was the plan.”
The worst was the time my mom came running into my room and told me she finally remembered how she and my dad had come up with my name.
“We did crazy things when we were younger,” she said.
“Is this going to traumatize me?” I asked.
“Sometimes we would dress up in costumes.”
“I don’t want to hear this. You’re an insane woman.”
“We were doing a scene from Shakespeare on the day you were conceived.”
“I’m calling Child Services!” I yelled, running from the room.
Her voice shrilled after me. “Your father was Othello!”
Take a moment to consider the implications of a name like Shakespeare Shapiro. It’s the first day of middle school. Everybody is trying hard not to look nervous and self-conscious and miserable. I have intense pains in my stomach and begin to wonder if it’s possible to get an ulcer in sixth grade.
“Good morning, everyone,” the teacher says. “Please say ‘here’ when I call your name.”
Michael and Jennifer and David and Stephanie and all the others hear their names and dutifully identify themselves.
“Shakespeare Shapiro,” the teacher calls out.
The class bursts into laughter.
“Here,” I squeak.
She looks up. “What a fabulous name. I’ve never had a student named Shakespeare before.”
Everybody is staring at me and whispering. If the teacher doesn’t call the next name soon, the situation will become critical. Already I can see some of the more ape-like boys sizing me up for an afternoon beating.
“I bet you’re a wonderful writer, Shakespeare,” she says kindly.
I begin to wish for a large brick to fall on her head.
She looks back down at her roster.
Come on, I think. You can do it.
Her head pops back up.
“Just read the next name!” I blurt out.
And so, less than ten minutes into my middle school career, I’m already in trouble, and all because of my ridiculous name.
This is the story of my life, which has been a series of catastrophes, one after another. I’d like to say there have been some happy times, too, but the reality is that with seventeen years down, nothing much has gone right so far. As I begin my senior year of high school, here are the facts I wake up to each morning and go to sleep with each night:
1. After six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, and three years of high school, I have only two close friends: Neil Wasserman, whose favorite thing to do is discuss his bowel movements; and Katie Marks, whose favorite thing to do is tell me how pathetic I am.
2.I have never had a girlfriend, never kissed a girl, and spend most Saturday nights watching TV with my parents before whacking off to Internet porn in my bedroom.
3.My younger brother—two years younger—has a girlfriend, is extremely popular, and will definitely lose his virginity before I do.
I should warn you. Some of the material you’re about to read is disturbing. Some of it will make you shake your head in disbelief. Some of it will make you cringe in disgust. Some of it might even make you rush out into the stormy night, rip your shirt from your body, and howl, “WHY, GOD, WHY?”
Then again, maybe you’ll just sit back and smile, secure in the knowledge that your name is not Shakespeare Shapiro, and this is not your life.
From the Hardcover edition.