Something Wicked

Alan Gratz’s fresh spin on Shakespeare makes superb reading for older teens.

Something Wicked: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery By Alan Gratz Dial Books 272 pp., 16.99 For older teen readers

If young adult literature is the new Rock ’n’ Roll, as some suggest, then author Alan Gratz is Frank Zappa, and his smart, droll remakes of Shakespeare’s tragic hits – Hamlet and Macbeth – should win new converts to the old bard’s gems.

Gratz’s new novel intended for older teens, Something Wicked, based on Macbeth, comes on the heels of his first remake, “Something Rotten,” based on Hamlet.

In that first book, teen sleuth Horatio Wilkes finds something rotten in Denmark, Tennessee: His best friend’s father has just been murdered.

Though the tale follows most of Shakespeare’s original – with a dash of evil environmental pollution thrown in – Gratz succeeds in remaking Horatio into one funny, fresh dude.

Horatio is even better in “Something Wicked.”

He’s a witty, snarky, self-deprecating king of one-liners and inside jokes who never met a metaphor he couldn’t make amusing:
“[A]s awkward as Michael Vick at a PETA rally,” “as white as a suburb,” “as black as a telemarketer’s soul,” “deader than the Confederacy,” a nerdy father and son are “two peas in a pocket protector.”

It’s impossible not to laugh – or at least smile – your way through Horatio’s take on the world. Author Gratz challenges readers, keeps them turning pages, and makes every word count.
“Something Wicked” opens in a strip-mall town at the foot of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.

Pigeon Forge sits like a scar in the earth, a gaping, brightly colored wound festering in the Smoky Mountain sun. It’s not a town; it’s an eight-lane abomination of go-cart tracks, mini-golf courses … and neon orange fiberglass gorillas.”

Horatio is on his way to the annual Scottish Highland Games with his friends: handsome, wealthy Mac; Mac’s pushy girlfriend, Beth; and Mac’s cousin, Banks.
Horatio is the only one not wearing a clan kilt (and, as a character from Hamlet, the only true interloper).

They stop by a tarot- and palm-reader’s shop.

“The fortune-teller was round like a crystal ball.... [I]n the strange light I could see she had whiskers on her chin. It wasn’t so much disgusting as embarrassing: Madame Hecate could grow a beard better than I could.”

When Hecate predicts Mac will “win the games” but cousin Banks will “own the mountain,” the teens laugh it off. Hours later Mac’s grandfather – Duncan MacRae, owner of the mountain and host of the games – is found murdered in his tent.

Quickly a suspect is arrested; the Highland Games roll on, and Mac starts winning events like stone throwing and log tossing, as Madame Hecate predicted.

Horatio falls in love, and readers should be advised that the book includes sexual references (though, as my children say, nothing they don’t hear on the school bus).

He defeats the spiky-haired punk-rock bagpipers who threaten his new heartthrob, Megan Macduff, and in the process comes to learn he, too, is a Macduff.

But “fair turns fowl” as Horatio stumbles upon blueprints that threaten to engulf the pristine mountain in golf greens and condos.

Can Horatio figure out who’s trying to make the mountain into an 18-hole hill? Can he outwit and entrap the guilty party? Or will he overclub and lose it all?

Alan Gratz won the 2007 ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults for his original coming-of-age novel “Samurai Shortstop.” His superb spin on Shakespeare leaves this reader with just two words: More please!

Elizabeth A. Brown is a freelance writer living near Hillsborough, N.C.

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