Retellings of Shakespeare are a staple in every YA reader’s diet. There’s E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued By A Bear, Robin Talley’s As I Descended, Michelle Ray’s Falling For Hamlet – and adding to the collection is Lily Anderson with her new retelling of Much Ado About Nothing: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You.
In The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West down to number four.
“Trixie and Ben are seniors at the Messina Academy For The Gifted in Eugene, Oregon. They’ve gone to school together their entire lives, but there’s been bad blood between them ever since the first grade when Ben “accidentally” shoved Trixie off of the monkey bars, which led to her breaking her arm. It doesn’t help that they are constantly battling over third place in the class rank that the Mess publicly announces every month. However, they both enjoy Marvel comics, Doctor Who, and the Whedonverse. Ben has an affinity for his new hipster mustache. Trixie’s a Taurus.”
In The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, Anderson flipped the focus of Much Ado About Nothing on its head: where Much Ado About Nothing forces on Hero and Claudio’s “grand – and way problematic – love story,” Anderson focused on Benedick and Beatrice. It shifts the nuance of the relationship between Trixie and Ben.
“Having their relationship front and center meant that I had to reevaluate it. Sure, it’s funny when Beatrice and Benedick snipe at each other, but in reality wouldn’t it also lead to hurt feelings? Trixie’s emotional arc hinges on the idea that her rapier wit is actually wounding the people around her. She learns how to be clever without being mean spirited and to be accountable for how she treats people.”
Focusing on them also means that she gets to up the number of insults. Where Beatrice insults Benedick before he’s even on stage in act one, scene one, Anderson started the insults from the very first line.
“Honestly, coming up with the insults is what really kick started the book for me,” said Anderson “So, Trixie opens the book describing the horror that is Ben’s new handlebar mustache. Later in the chapter she tells him, ‘Seriously… you look like Mario. All you need is a plunger and a self-fertilizing hermaphroditic dinosaur.’ That’s my favorite insult. Hands down.”
Modernizing Much Ado About Nothing posed challenges to Anderson outside of changing the perspectives. “It’s inherently presumptuous to retell a Shakespeare story. You can’t out-craft Shakespeare. His sentences will always be more lyrical, his act structure flawless. But… he wasn’t always the best at writing for ladies. Which makes sense since ladies were never intended to be involved in the production of Much Ado About Nothing. In the original story, Beatrice and Hero are supposed to land husbands whether they like it or not and their maids, Margaret and Ursula, are along for the ride. The end. Setting the book in a school as competitive and rigorous as the Mess meant that each character had wants and needs and problems that were in no way related to a romantic relationship.”
Adapting Ursula – named Mary-Anne in this adaptation, as Anderson couldn’t bring herself to use the name Ursula with “The Little Mermaid” villain so front and center in our culture – proved a problem, but even harder to reconcile was Hero, named Harper in The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You.
“Shakespeare’s Hero is so pure, so good, so Mary Sue that the only plot she can be given is a hardcore slut-shaming at the idea that she’s ever even been alone in a room with a man. Before I started writing, I needed to come up with a non-sexual scandal that would have stakes for everyone in the story, not just Harper. Rooting the scandal in academics makes the entire school suspect.”
The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You releases on May 17. Fans will fall in love with Trixie and Ben – not just because of Anderson’s excellent adaptation of Shakespeare, but because of how she merged her own fandom love into the story.
“I love Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Star Wars. I have Harry Potter tattoos,” said Anderson. “Trixie and I disagree greatly about Spider-Man. For me, Miles Morales is the only acceptable Spidey. Trix has big manga heart eyes for Peter Parker. My favorite comic book hero is Deadpool and no one in the cast of The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You agrees with me there. Saga is magical, obviously, but my favorite Brian K. Vaughan series is Paper Girls. I’ve never been into Supernatural because I love Gilmore Girls so much (too much?) and I still get mad when I see Jared Padalecki’s face.
“And Firefly is the absolute best Joss Whedon show. No question. That is 14-ish perfect hours of TV.”