All the world’s a stage, and for John Rice the stage is also his life, the scene of his greatest triumphs and the repository of his personal insecurities.
Abrams’ (The Play’s the Thing, 2015, etc.) novel is a fictional biography of the Elizabethan child actor believed to have originally played many of Shakespeare’s major female roles, including Lady Macbeth, Cordelia, and Desdemona. The story opens with Rice’s birth as the second son of a successful glove-maker. As one of seven children, Rice struggles to find his place in society, lacking the physical talents to follow in his father’s footsteps. His life changes when the King’s Men—the most famous theatrical troupe in London—comes to his hometown of Reading. Rice is transfixed by Alexander Cook’s performance of Rosalind and, with his father’s blessing, becomes the company’s apprentice, poised to take over the ingénue roles as Alexander ages out of them. What follows is a poignant coming-of-age tale that explores the complexities of youth and gender performance. Rice is a compelling protagonist, and his journey showcases the theater’s unique ability to free its denizens from mainstream societal expectations, although as he rises in the company he grapples with a Peter Pan–like horror of aging.
A thought-provoking work that will encourage readers to learn more about the world of Elizabethan theater. (Historical fiction. 13-18)