Katie likes to believe she’s invisible. It seems much safer than being exposed as she is–shy, poor, awkward. So getting up on stage in the school production of The Taming of the Shrew should be complete torture. But as Katie tells it, something totally unexpected happened when she stepped on stage: “My head exploded. I loved it. Acting hit me like a sucker punch and I loved, loved, loved it! . . . Invisible Katie became visible Katharina.”
Evan Cooper is, as they say, another story. He knows just what it takes to get noticed, and he uses every one of the skills he’s honed after years of being the new kid. Like tossing the keys to his father’s high-end Audi to a kid he’s never met, first day of school. “I have insurance for car theft,” he explains to a shocked Danny. “And there’s a full tank.” An abuse of the power that comes with privilege and money? Sure.
But more dangerously, is his romance with Katie another version of the same thing? Or is it the real thing?
Tell Me More: In recent years, The Taming of the Shrew has become one of Shakespeare’s highly contested plays. Readers are split over whether Petruchio was horribly sexist or if Katherine was bullied into submission. Of course, it’s easy for those of us who grew up with 10 Things I Hate About You to believe that love has the power to change one’s attitude, but what happens when we can’t tell the difference between love and abuse?
Plot-wise, I was extremely impressed with The Taming. It introduces the idea of infatuation so subtly that you can get through half of the book without realizing that Evan has suddenly become a creepy presence. In fact, he’s quite easy to fall in love with as a character. He is charming and smart and realistically, he’d be at the top of the social ladder. His charisma is so strong that even the reader’s head is turned, and who could blame them? Was Katie wrong to fall for him? Just as the reader starts to realize that something is terribly wrong about Evan, he turns into someone we don’t recognize, someone who might actually be a victim himself.
It’s that kind of topsy-turvy perspective that many victims of abuse develop toward their partners, and it is portrayed so starkly in this novel. Love needs trust to grow, and Evan doesn’t even trust himself. I have heard negative feedback about that aspect of his personality, and I don’t blame readers for being angry with Evan. But I do think that to simply dismiss him as a messed-up boy is wrong too. He is, whether we like it or not, mentally ill, and deserves our compassion, if not our respect. The ending was spot-on in that regard.
However, I do think that Toten & Walters could have done a little more with Katie. Her transformation from shy wallflower to instant center of attention was too fast for my taste, and I would have liked to see her grow into that confidence. As Katharine is one of my favourite Shakespeare heroines, I wanted to see more of that unconquerable spirit in Katie. Because, yes, I am firmly in Camp True-Love-Can-Overcome-Obstacles when it comes to this story. To me, Katharine and Petruchio are a great example of realistic love: they fight, they argue, they even hate each other sometimes, but in the end, they would sacrifice their former reputations for the joy of being able to love one another. That’s something that Katie and Evan will (I think) have learned to value after meeting each other.
That’s Not All:
- SERIOUS geekery over reciting Taming of the Shrew lines as I read the book.
- Hilarious supporting characters!
The Final Say: Teresa Toten & Eric Walters take on the tough subject of relationship abuse through the eyes of Shakespeare, and it truly is a poignant and powerful combination.