Wow! Carnegie Medal winner Mal Peet has written a different book about fame, much more sophisticated than Claim to Fame (see below). Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, this novel is focused, not so much on jealousy, but on the perils and tragedies of celebrity. Otello is a soccer star, a black man who’s just signed a contract with a team in the southern part of an unnamed South American country. Desmerelda is a white pop idol, and also the daughter of a powerful politician who happens to be one of the team’s owners. When Otello and Desmerelda fall in love, the spotlight of celebrity becomes so blindingly focused on every detail of their lives together that it becomes impossible for them to make any good decisions. And since, unbeknownst to either Dezi or Otello, the couple have an enemy who is willing to do whatever it takes to destroy them, well, it’s a tragedy of epic proportions.
A long time ago when I read Othello, I remember wondering why Iago was so intent on destroying Othello. Jealousy? Revenge against the world for slighting him? Monetary gain? I had the same question throughout this novel. As Otello’s evil enemy works his scheme to completely sabotage Dezi’s and Otello’s success and ruin their lives, he never tells us why he wants to destroy these superstars. Is it envy? Or money? Or has Otello done something to this man to make him angry and bitter? The ending of the book implies that the entire plot was a long con to gain more money for the evil Iago character, but it doesn’t make complete sense. “Iago” is already rich, and he seems to have some deeper motive for hating Dezi and Otello. I liked the fact that, just as in Shakepeare’s play, we never really know why this all had to happen.
In a tragedy the hero is supposed to have a “tragic flaw.” Shakepeare’s Othello is a jealous man, easily deluded by Iago’s lies. Otello in Exposure seems to be good man. He’s not jealous like his namesake or greedy and ambitious like Macbeth or imperious and full of pride like Lear. If anything, Peet’s Otello is a Hamlet, unable to decide what to do or whom to trust or to understand why he is caught in a web of deceit that will bring him to his ultimate disgrace and downfall.
It’s a sad, sort of hopeless, tragedy, and the parallel story about a trio of street kids whose lives become intertwined with those of Otello and Dezi is not much more hopeful. Bush, the street beggar, and his friend, Felicia, do have a bit of a happy ending, but it’s mixed with tragedy, too. Nevertheless, as much as I like to have a smidgen of optimism in my stories, this one feels right. It’s a jungle out there, and fame and celebrity are not a protection but rather an invitation to evil people to see what dirt they can find or manufacture to bring down the high and mighty. And great was the fall thereof.
If this one is eligible for the next round of the Cybils, I’m going to nominate it. It was published in Britain in 2008, but the U.S. edition came out in October, 2009, just on the cusp of the nomination period. It wasn’t nominated in 2008 or 2009. So I’ll have to see. But it would be a shame to have this one overlooked because it’s that good.
Other Shakespeare-inspired YA novels:
Hamlet, A Novel by John Marsden
Enter Three Witches by Caroline Cooney.
Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein.
Lady Macbeth’s Daughter by Lisa M. Klein.
The Third Witch: A Novel by Rebecca Reisert
Ophelia’s Revenge by Rebecca Reisert
Dating Hamlet: Ophelia’s Story by Lisa Fiedler
Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler.
Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors.
The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper.
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston.
Any additions to the list?