I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Ben and Beatriz by Katalina Gamarra. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
Much Ado About Nothing? Modern day retelling? Say no more!
In Ben and Beatriz by Katalina Gamarra, Beatriz is about to graduate college in a couple months, when her beloved cousin Hero invites her to spend spring break with her. The only problem is, Hero’s spending spring break with her new boyfriend Claudio at Claudio’s friend’s house, and that friend is none other than Ben Montgomery, a man Beatriz cannot stand. She goes with Hero, though, and sure enough she and Ben are at each other’s throats again. But how is Beatriz supposed to feel anything but disdain and resentment for silver spoon, privileged Ben, especially when she—a queer, brown-skinned Latinx woman—faces racist and sexist micro-aggressions frequently, and is struggling to find a job after graduation? But as she gets to know Ben more (and they start hooking up sometimes), she starts to reassess things. As does Ben, whose feelings for Beatriz are growing every day.
Seriously, do not get me started on how much I love the Beatrice and Benedick storyline in Much Ado About Nothing, unless you want to listen to me talk for a very long time. And if you want me to talk for even longer, ask me what I think of Hero and Claudio, because I have opinions.
Anyway, this retelling is so much fun! Seeing these characters placed in a modern day setting (specifically, spring 2017) and dealing with the issues we have been dealing with lately is wonderful. The book deals with racism and misogyny in a way that William Shakespeare (who probably was a bit of a jerk in regards to those things) never did, and I loved it.
That said, I wasn’t entirely enamored of Beatriz and Ben at the beginning of this story. For me, a large part of the charm of the original play is that the two seem to be more bantering than bickering, because there is unexpressed fondness they are both sort of aware of but ignoring. Like, yes, they are teasing each other, but they’re on the same page. In this novel, though, Ben and Beatriz have some significant resentment, not to mention vastly different upbringings and worldviews. While this gives depth to both characters, it’s less fun of a start and harder to get invested in the idea of them getting together. I found myself wondering why Beatriz should give this Ben a chance, when he was raised the way he was by the people he was raised by?
However, the development of their relationship, the things they learn about each other and themselves, and the ways they change as individuals was very well done. It’s full of complexity and nuance, and I loved seeing them transform over time. Also, them bonding over Jane Austen was absolutely delightful. Especially since I have a pet theory that Pride and Prejudice is actually Much Ado fanfiction, but again, don’t get me started.
As for the other main couple, I actually was thrilled with how the author handled the relationship between Hero and Claudio. While Claudio’s behavior is not excused, it is clear that to an extent this was not his fault. But he’s still held accountable for his actions, and the resolution is, to me, correct and oh so satisfying (unlike in the original play).
The other parts of the story, like the subplots involving Meg and Ben’s brother John, are also fantastic. I also loved how well Beatriz’s bond with Hero is explored, and both girls’ familial relationship with Leo is so sweet. Ben’s storyline with his parents is excellent. Basically, it’s all great!
Content note: There is moderately explicit sexual content, as well as language and drinking. There is also drug use (though not on the page), an instance of someone recording a sexual encounter without the other person’s consent, and an instance of a suicide attempt (also not on the page).
In the end, Ben and Beatriz is an exceptional novel. It contains the heart of the original Shakespeare play, but has its own intelligent, insightful modern twist. The characters and their journeys are amazing, and the emotion is strong. This reads like it would be something for Casey McQuiston fans (I can attest, since I am one of them). I highly recommend this!
Ben and Beatriz will be published on August 2nd, 2022!
I also loved that the author mentioned in her acknowledgements that the best version of Much Ado is the one starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, because that is a FACT.