Friday, January 11, 2008

Something Rotten

Compared with other young adult mysteries I’ve read recently, Alan Gratz’s Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery has a lot going for it.

The book is an updated version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Horatio Wilkes visits his high school buddy, Hamilton, in Denmark, Tennessee. Hamilton is a mess because his father has recently died and his mother has married his uncle. He has a girlfriend, Olivia, whom he has alienated.

Gratz does a good job of giving this classic tale a modern twist. However, he does take certain liberties with the story. Not only is Horatio the hero of the book, but Hamilton’s inconsistent behavior is explained with an alcohol addiction. Although most of the storyline and characters are there, the book is more mystery and less tragedy.

Like many YA novelists, Gratz has created a hero who is unlike any teenage boy I’ve ever encountered. I am not referring to Horatio’s quick mind and ability to solve mysteries. I can suspend my disbelief in these cases.

However, I cannot believe a teenage boy would make references to Shakespeare (beyond the obvious Hamlet ones), Roman poets, and even allusions to lines in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I also doubt most young adults would appreciate or pick up on these references.

Not only is Horatio apparently a literary savant, but he is also about 60 years old. The modern teenager—who loves his cell phone, iPod, and PS3—references The Dukes of Hazard, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Howdy Doody. Even I am too young to have watched most of those shows.

Overall, though, Horatio is an engaging—though rather impertinent—young hero, and I look forward to reading future books in the series.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

Have any other books in the series been published?

Blogger said...

This is the first in a projected series. According to his website (, the next is scheduled for fall 2008.