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By Molly Booth
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Emma Allen couldn't be more excited to start her sophomore year. Not only is she the assistant stage manager for the drama club's production of Hamlet, but her crush Brandon is directing, and she's rocking a new haircut that's sure to get his attention. But soon after school starts, everything goes haywire: Emma's promoted to stage manager with zero experience, her best friend Lulu stops talking to her, and Josh—the adorable soccer boy who's cast as the lead—turns out to be a disaster.
One night after rehearsal, Emma distractedly falls through the stage's trap door…landing in the basement of the Globe Theater. It's London, 1601, and with her awesome new pixie cut, everyone thinks Emma's a boy—even Will Shakespeare himself. With no clue how to get home, Emma gamely plays her role as backstage assistant to the original production of Hamlet, learning a thing or two about the theater, and meeting an incredibly hot actor named Alex who finds Emma as intriguing as she finds him. But once Emma starts traveling back and forth through time, things get really confusing. Which boy is the one for her? In which reality does she belong? Will Lulu ever forgive her? And can she possibly save two disastrous productions of Hamlet before time runs out?
Copyright © 2016 by Molly Booth
Cover design by Tyler Nevins
Cover art © 2016 by Red Hansen
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
I have a theory that the haircut started all of this.
It was three days before my sophomore year of high school started, and I remember everything: my hand shaking as I pushed open the door to the salon, the AC sending chills up and down my arms.
“Have a seat. Someone can take you in a minute.”
I took a magazine and flipped through, not looking at the shiny-mirror half of the room. I hadn’t had a real haircut haircut since we had moved to Massachusetts. But with everything that had happened in the last year, I desperately wanted a change. Needed a change.
I put down the magazine and pulled out the picture—some model I found when searching online. The cut was chin-length and feathery: supercool, supernew, superchic.
It’ll be a miracle if it turns out like that, though, I had thought. “Chic” isn’t a word I can even say out loud.
I stood and blurted out:
A twenty-something woman with short, spiky, purple hair raised her eyebrows at my too-enthusiastic greeting. She was curvy, with all kinds of piercings and dark, thick makeup. She looked like a gothic princess, or Queen Mab.
I didn’t know how to wear makeup. I had slim hips, slim-to-none boobs, and my almost-butt-length hair was in a scraggly ponytail.
“So what are we doing today?” Purple Girl asked as I sat down in the metal spinny chair.
“I think…I want to cut it off.”
“Awesome.” She grinned. “How ‘off’ are we talking?”
I showed her my model picture. “Like this…but more like a fairy?”
Out loud, it sounded like something a kindergartner would say. I waited for her to smirk or laugh at me. Instead, her eyes lit up and she spun me away from the mirror.
“Let’s do this.”
Just one small snip. That’s all it took. And then a long red ponytail landed in my lap. That can’t really be my hair, I reasoned. My hair is on my head. But the hair was held together with an eerily familiar pink elastic.
Suddenly, I couldn’t hear the noises of the salon. My heart pounded against my ribs. Bubbles of anxiety formed in my chest. Pop pop pop. Deep breaths, Emma. Close your eyes. Make this positive.
I pictured that with every snip, some stress from freshman year was being cut away, too: moving, quitting soccer, Lulu and Megan’s kiss, The Horrible Party, and The Fog Machine Incident. I was leaving it all behind on the tiled floor, memories and worries tumbling away like leaves in the fall.
I began to calm down, and the bubbles popped slower and sank lower in my chest. A new school year, a fresh start. The second year of high school had to be better than the first.
“What made you want to cut your hair?”
“I just, um…” I almost whispered. “I really need a change.” I nearly said something about Brandon, but I stopped myself. Don’t go there, Emma. She’s your hairdresser, not your diary.
She mmmed in response. Then her scissors sped up: snip-snip-snip-snip-snip-snip-snip.
“We’re getting there—almost done!”
It felt like it had been ten minutes! The bubbles came back full force, boiling inside me. She whipped out a razor and started slicing the hair right above my eyes. I fought the urge to yank my head away. Or run. This girl has purple hair; why did I trust her?
I didn’t feel ready, but she spun me around. I cringed in anticipation of cringing.
“Don’t you look great? I’m so happy with how it turned out!”
Did I look great? I didn’t know. The girl in the mirror looked amazing, but I wasn’t sure who it was. It was like someone had recast the role of me. The freshman-in-high-school Emma was gone, and a glamorous sophomore had replaced her.
I touched it gently. No more than a couple inches long on top and less than that on the sides and the back—way shorter than the model’s hair. My bangs had been cut stylishly small and jagged. Little pieces near my ears were longer, and wispy. Suddenly, my freckles and slightly upturned nose worked: I looked like a supermodel. A fairy supermodel—Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a terrifyingly great haircut.
I slid my vision to the left and eyed the scissors: normal scissors couldn’t have done this. But they had black handles and pointy ends. Nothing mysterious about them.
“What do you think?”
We made eye contact in the mirror. Instinctively, I tried to sink back into the folds of my hair, but realized that wasn’t an option anymore. Human interaction was going to change for me, clearly—this haircut meant no way to hide.
“I love it.”
Last year, my wardrobe had slowly transitioned to all black. Not glamorous black, but normal black. Theatre techies were required to wear black for the shows so the audience couldn’t see us working behind-the-scenes magic. Thanks to my theatre work, I had learned to be invisible: techies were swift, dark, silent.
My new hair wasn’t silent—it shouted. Or screamed. So when I picked my first-day-of-school outfit, the black jeans and T-shirt were comforting. Even if my hair was loud, the rest of me would be quiet. Only one part of my outfit really made a fashion statement, and the one it made was the ultimate whisper:
Shoes. They were the shoes: black-on-black high-top sneakers, the supreme theatre-techie footwear. I had wanted them since last year when I joined stage crew, but I hadn’t felt qualified. After my epic backstage blunder over the summer, I still didn’t feel qualified, but I had bought them with my Oklahoma! stipend to console myself.
Monday morning, I took my time putting them on, and when I finished I admired my feet, wholly satisfied. Hot damn, I thought. These shoes are the complete and total essence of cool. A quick glance in the mirror made me grin: I looked nothing like First-Day-of-School Emma from last year.
I grabbed my backpack (carefully organized the night before) and thumped down into the kitchen. My cell phone buzzed with a text from Lulu:
Be there in 5
I exhaled a whoosh of relief. Lulu had been on lockdown for weeks—no friends, no phone, no computer. About a month ago, after the opening-night performance of Oklahoma!, Lulu’s girlfriend, Megan—one of the actors from the chorus—had kissed Lulu when she came out of the dressing room. Lulu’s parents saw, and all hell broke loose. The Parkses were strict and narrow-minded, and not knowing what to do with their recently outed bisexual teenage daughter, their obvious solution was to cut her off from her friends and keep her from leaving the house.
I was looking forward to school starting for lots of reasons: not being the weird new freshman anymore, assistant stage-managing the fall production of Hamlet, seeing Brandon, and a class schedule that included Pre-Calc and Honors English II. But I was really looking forward to seeing my best friend every day again.
I grabbed a banana and was about to leave when Mom appeared.
“You look great, sweetie!” She set her briefcase on the island and fastened an earring.
“Thanks,” I paused at the doorway. “So do you.”
Mom was dressed all professor-y. Which made sense, because she was a professor. That’s why we’d moved to Mass right before my freshman year: she had been offered a tenure track position at the local state college.
“Do you need a ride?”
“Lulu’s picking me up,” I said. “Any minute now, actually. I’ll see you tonight.”
Dad had developed an unnamed sense that recognized when important moments were happening in our house, so he emerged on cue from his home office in the basement. He spent his entire life down there, doing software and graphics. He also spent a lot of time shepherding my little sister, Abby, to her various prestigious activities. She was one of those seven-year-olds.
“Have a great first day!” Dad said from the top of the basement stairs, with his signature slicing wave. “And don’t let anyone call you a boy! It’s what’s inside that counts!”
Gee, thanks, Dad.
And with that, I was set free.
They were still adjusting. It wasn’t a surprise that my parents had freaked out about the hair. When I quit soccer mid-season last year, neither of them had understood. They still didn’t. To be fair, that was partly because I had lied and told them I’d just suddenly lost interest, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense given that I’d played soccer my entire life. Dad used to call my right foot “The Boot” and claim it was a “gift from the gods.” No idea which gods he was referencing; we were the least religious family I knew.
There was no way I could ever play soccer again. I’d quit overnight and ruined my team’s season-long winning streak—without their star sweeper, they’d lost five games in a row and blown their chance at last year’s playoffs. Everyone kind of hated me after that. No more soccer.
But I knew my parents had been secretly hoping I would return to her—that whole varsity, popular-high-school-athlete person. I could imagine them labeling freshman year as a Thing Emma Was Going Through. But the short hair must have confirmed their worst fears: I had officially become a weird theatre kid. The hair made it permanent.
Lulu’s little red car pulled up.
She didn’t even bother to close the car door, just sprinted across the lawn. I ran to meet her halfway, and we slammed into each other for the most epic of epic hugs. After a tight squeeze, I felt her sigh into my shoulder, her whole body collapsing just the smallest bit. We finally pulled back and considered each other after weeks of separation.
“Babe, your hair is perfect.” She reached up and touched my bangs.
I laughed. “Really?”
“Really. Supercool, supernew, superchic.”
See? Lulu pulls off the word “chic.”
Even after a year, it was hard to believe she was my best friend. I looked her over for changes, but found none. She was still gorgeous—tall and willowy and intense, with slate-colored eyes and silky white-blond hair that cascaded down her back. That morning she was wearing a white sundress and strappy sandals. Not typical Lulu-wear—more like her mom had dressed her. I cringed inwardly, but it was a huge relief to see her.
Then came the hard part: We needed to say something. We hadn’t really talked about what had happened with Megan, and I wasn’t sure where to begin.
“How are you?” It felt like a lame question.
“I’m doing okay,” she replied, giving me another quick squeeze before leading the way back to the car. “Better now.” She flashed a small smile.
I dropped into the passenger seat, Lulu slid on big, dark sunglasses, and we eased onto the road.
“Lockdown has been lifted, tentatively,” she continued. “We had a long talk yesterday, and they said I can try out for Hamlet as long as I come straight home after rehearsals. I played up the college angle.”
“That was smart.” Even with the rigid rules, Lulu’s parents could never keep her from acting. Her talent was too undeniable.
“Yeah. I haven’t told them what part I’m trying out for, though.”
“That was smart, too.”
We turned into the Belleport High School parking lot and sat in the car, watching the bustle outside the big brick building. Everything was made of brick or granite in Massachusetts—they liked their mud and rocks. Lulu pushed her sunglasses up onto the top of her head and revealed red and watery eyes.
“How am I going to get through this?” she stared at the school entrance. “What if everyone’s talking about me? I don’t want things to be different.”
The only people at school who knew about Lulu and Megan were the drama kids who’d done Oklahoma! with us over the summer at Possum Community Playhouse. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t spread rumors—drama geeks look out for each other ’cause we’re all weird. I wanted to assure her that it didn’t need to be different, that nobody else needed to know unless she wanted them to know, but I wasn’t sure if that was an okay thing to say.
“Hey,” I grabbed her hand. “It’ll be fine. We’re doing Hamlet, how could it be a bad year?”
Lulu and I had become friends because of Shakespeare; any references to the Bard could usually inspire her. She nodded and took a deep breath. Then she was out of the car, bag over her shoulder and sunglasses back on. I fumbled out the door to keep up with her.
She stopped in front of the double doors at the main school entrance and took a breath.
“All right, let’s do this,” she announced. “We at least have to show everyone how hot you look.”
I beamed, and then immediately felt an unaccountable blush spread across my nose and cheeks. I turned away.
“Stop it, Em.”
Lulu leaned in, her arms crossed.
“Let’s get this straight,” she said, keeping her voice low. “I’m not attracted to you, okay? You’re my best friend, and you like boys.”
My face was on fire.“You’re right, I’m so sorry, I just—”
“Don’t worry about it, babe.” She ruffled my hair and then linked her arm around mine. Relief flooded through me: Lulu was changing, but our friendship wasn’t. As we entered the school, I finally felt ready for sophomore year. But more than that, I felt ready for anything.
Lulu headed off to the junior wing, and I waded through the polo-clad crowd to get to my new locker. After arranging my things, I decided I would take the long way to homeroom, through the junior/senior territory, just on the off chance I would run into—
I turned, feigning bewilderment.
Was it really possible for a guy to get four times cuter in three months?
His black eyes pinned me in place, and his triangular, dimply smile nearly knocked me over. He looked good: His shaggy dark curls had grown out a little, and he was more tan, and more…muscular. His biceps stretched the sleeves of his white T-shirt. One time last year, I’d seen him shirtless backstage. It was still my number one daydream.
“Brandon!” I smiled. “Did you have a good summer?”
“There’s something I need to talk to you about.” His smile morphed into a strangely serious expression. “Wait, something’s different about you.”
I was slightly annoyed that he had ignored the question I’d practiced the entire month of August, but happy he had noticed my hair.
“Yeah!” My smile brightened. “Do you like—”
“Here, come with me.”
Flustered, I stumbled behind him until we ducked into a side stairwell. Blood rushed into my ears—was this it? Was something finally going to happen between us? And on the first day of school?
My Brandon Aiello crush had begun last year, when Lulu started bringing me to her A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsals. I had looked up onto the stage, and there stood a guy—not a boy—with real stubble, in a soft, black leather jacket, laughing easily. I hadn’t kissed anyone before, and I’d never really wanted to. But with Brandon…my feelings hit me straight in the gut, winding me, and I’d never recovered. Almost a year later, I felt like I’d made zero headway in the Brandon department—still no first kiss, nowhere close to a date.
But now we were alone. In a stairwell. And I was pretty sure my hair looked amazing.
“It’s Janet,” he said.
“What?” I replied with half a hiccup.
“Janet Shepard? The stage manager?” He had pulled out his phone and was scrolling through it.
“Oh, right, of course,” I collected myself. Janet was my theatre mentor—a senior. I had worked on her crew all last year, and for Oklahoma! over the summer. She was the stage manager for Hamlet, and I was going to be her assistant. She was training me to take over when she graduated. “What about her?”
“Well…” Brandon held out his phone. “She sent me this email over the weekend. Her family decided to move to Australia.”
I blinked at the phone, not seeing it. The emotions that had risen up when Brandon was pulling me into a stairwell for possibly romantic reasons plateaued before crashing down on me.
Janet. Australia. Hamlet. Koalas?
“So it looks like you’re up!”
I stared at him. He gave me a pat on the shoulder. I couldn’t even enjoy it. The bell rang.
“Welp! We should get to class.”
“Yeah.” I nodded robotically. “Class.”
The next thing I knew I was sitting in homeroom.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Try to remember how to spell “breathe”. Is it “b-r-e-a-t-h” or “b-r-e-a-t-h-e”?
It felt like a dream. One of those first-day-of-school nightmares that my brain concocted to make me grind my teeth at night. The rest of the morning blurred by as I waited to wake up. I barely noticed the senior varsity soccer girls snickering at my new hair.
As I headed into the cafeteria, my sneakers squeaking on the linoleum, Brandon stopped me again, right inside the double doors.
“Emma, there you are! I forgot to mention…”
I braced myself for more.
“Auditions are tomorrow. Can you come help out?” he handed me a flyer with a skull on it.
Are you kidding? I thought. Is Shakespeare the greatest playwright of all time?
“Yeah, of course!”
“Excellent!” As he walked away to go sit with the computer club, I focused on a table behind him where Ashlee, Ashley, and Jennifer, my ex-teammates and ex-friends, were whispering, gaping in Brandon’s direction and then back at me.
Yeah, that’s right, a cute senior was totally talking to me.
As soon as I sat down next to Lulu, she looked at me seriously and said:
“I think the hair is working.”
I relayed the morning’s events, Lulu providing the appropriate amount of gasps and votes of confidence. As we speculated about auditions, I snuck a few looks across the room: Is this what being Brandon’s stage manager would be like? Would he be stopping me in public, so the whole world could see a senior guy talking to me? Were we a team now?
I can do this. I can totally do this.
The next day I was disappointed when I discovered “helping out” at auditions meant handing out paperwork and numbers, and then ushering people into the auditorium when it was their turn. I had been daydreaming of getting to sit in with Brandon and give my opinion of the performances. But that’s not what a theatre techie does.
Brandon’s role as student director was announced last year. It was always a senior, and once our drama director picked someone, there were only two requirements: 1. Put on a play. 2. Put on a Shakespeare play.
After being selected, Brandon had announced his choice: Hamlet. I had been surprised—Brandon was so good as Bottom in Midsummer I was sure he would pick a comedy. But Lulu’s eyes had immediately lit up like steely fire. Knowing we didn’t have many experienced guy actors for the fall, she had spent the entire summer learning the part of Hamlet. During Oklahoma! rehearsals she would balance both scripts on her lap.
“Wouldn’t it be kind of weird for a girl to play Hamlet?” I had asked one summer night on the way home.
“Lots of women have played Hamlet,” she scoffed. “He’s considered a very feminine role.”
I looked it up later, and she was totally right. But I still couldn’t picture it being better than a guy doing it, since it was a guy’s part and all.
Most of the students auditioning had chosen the “To be or not to be” speech. Lulu had anticipated this, and prepared instead Hamlet’s first soliloquy, “O, that this too too sallied flesh would melt.” I held one of the doors to the auditorium open just a crack so I could watch her.
“Lulu Parks, auditioning for the role of Hamlet.”
She wore a thick-strapped white tank top with jeans and sneakers. Her hair was pulled back in a severe ponytail. This was Actor Lulu. She stood center stage and dropped her head. Her chest gave a subtle rise and fall, and then she began.
“O God, God, how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!”
Lulu pouted, looking utterly, dramatically depressed. I almost laughed out loud. But then she quickly backed up as she pointed passionately at Hamlet’s invisible mom, seething—
“Why, she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on. And yet, within a month (Let me not think on’t—Frailty, thy name is woman)….”
I cringed. I never knew what to make of that line; I tried to ignore people when they told me Shakespeare was sexist, but sometimes it felt hard to deny.
I fought the urge to clap when she finished. She bounded out, and I gave her a big hug. She was beaming and flushed.
“It went well, I think.”
“You were amazing!” I said, and I meant it. If any girl could pull off the role, it was her.
Lulu left after her audition to appease her parents. We had only a few more people waiting to take the stage, and I was working on my homework when a nervous voice asked:
“Can I get a form?”
I looked up. What. The. What.
“Oh, hey, Emma!” Josh Jackson nodded at me. “Cool hair.”
“Thanks,” I said and handed him a clipboard and a pen, trying to hide my shaking hands. “You’re number forty-three. I’ll call you when you’re up.”
He picked a spot opposite from me in the auditorium lobby and sat, legs spread out, twiddling his thumbs. He went in ten minutes later, and I was left alone in the lobby under the fluorescent lights.
Fuzzy, lukewarm memories spilled on top of each other, all from The Horrible Party last Halloween. My sparkly orange top, a red Solo cup, a dark basement, my chest tightening…and Josh’s big brown eyes, filled with sympathy and apologies. He had helped me escape that night; I don’t think I could have left on my own. We hadn’t spoken since.
What is he doing at the auditions for Hamlet?
I listened to him bumble through: “To be, or, not, to be…?”
Oh, he’s terrible, I realized, a bit relieved. He doesn’t have a shot at getting cast as a sentinel.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Josh. I did, actually; I liked him better than any of the other soccer guys. He was always really focused on his goalie game. But Josh didn’t belong in my new, mostly comfortable theatre world. He inhabited the more normalverse of the rest of the school. Josh was on Earth, and I had made it out to Jupiter at least, maybe Saturn.
He finished and barreled out of the auditorium, both doors flying open at once. He dove straight into a corner of the lobby and bent over.
“Um, how did it go?” I asked, because it would be more awkward not to.
“Terrible,” he replied, breath rushing out of him. “Remind me to never do that again.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked before I could stop myself.
He didn’t seem to care. “I’ve always wanted to try out for a play, but—” He took a raspy breath. “Sorry. It feels like I couldn’t get my hands out in time and the ball hit me right in the chest.”
Praise for Saving Hamlet:
"I love, love, love Saving Hamlet. I love its characters -- smart, sassy, irreverent -- and its gender-bending both in the 21st and 17th centuries. I love its intelligent take on high school theater geeks."
—Jane Yolen, author of The Devil's Arithmetic, Sword of the Rightful King, and Owl Moon
- * "Fans of the Bard will relish this evocative and witty time-travel tale.... As enlightening as it is enjoyable, this whimsical novel deserves applause of its own."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- * "This entertaining and original novel deals not just with growing up, but with a fresh and different interpretation of 'to be or not to be.'"—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- "Emma is an easy-to-root-for heroine whose struggles will resonate with teens, drama geeks or otherwise.... A fun, imaginative debut."—Booklist
- "The well-paced narrative should have wide appeal for teen thespians."—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Nov 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers