Enter, stage left: Emma, a sophomore in high school who’s just trying to keep everything together. In Saving Hamlet, Emma is the stage manager of her high school’s production of Hamlet, and after a late night trips through the stage’s trap door, winding up in the basement of the Globe. She has to manage both productions of Hamlet – one in Elizabethan England and the other in present day, while somehow balancing homework and a fight with her newly-out best friend Lulu.
“[Emma’s] just beginning to find her footing in the drama department. Emma tries really hard to do the right thing. She admires – and somewhat idolizes – her friends and their talents. She’s a good big sibling to her little sister. She’s also an anxious person, who has some very real struggles with the negative voice in her head.”
That negative voice comes out in conflicts with Lulu, who’s struggling with disapproving parents and finding a second home in the theater group after coming out as bisexual.
“Out bisexual characters are incredibly important in stories because A) there isn’t enough bi representation, and B ) bisexual characters are so often “erased” or not given narratives that vocalize [or]validate their sexuality. I can think of several shows and books I’ve read [or]watched recently where the character likes men and women, but the writers won’t use the word ‘bi.’ There are ideas out there that being bi is a phase or that the person is confused. Bisexual is a sexual orientation. Period.”
Saving Hamlet also plays with gender roles and gender expression, both in the Elizabethan version of Hamlet where men played women, and in Emma’s production of Hamlet, where she chooses to genderswap the leading characters on opening night.
In the beginning of the novel, Emma quits the soccer team, joins the theater group as the stage manager, and chops her hair off into a flirty pixie cut – something Booth did herself as a teenager.
“I felt like such a rebel, stepping outside of the box. It empowered me and changed how I felt about myself. I still love my short hair! Emma’s hair cut was the first scene I wrote for Saving Hamlet, and one that stayed almost exactly the same throughout the entire drafting/editing process. I always felt like that needed to be what she changed, both for Elizabethan England purposes, and for her own growth.”
When Emma lands in Elizabethan England, her short hair makes everyone identify her as a boy. Her short hair played a part in the discussion about gender, sexuality and how we express ourselves.
“I do think that hair is gendered, but not inherently — it’s something we learn. I wanted to write about gender identity and expectations, because I think those are important conversations to have, so we can be open-minded and accepting about everyone’s identity expression. I wanted to bring that perspective to Emma’s play — that these stories are really about universal human struggle. It doesn’t matter who plays the parts.”