Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe (ARC Review)

Bright Ruined Things


Goodreads: Bright Ruined Things
Series: None
Source: ARC
Publication Date: October 26, 2021

Official Summary

Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

In this YA fantasy, Samantha Cohoe wonderfully mixes magic and an atmospheric setting into a fantastically immersive world, with characters you won’t be able to forget.

Star Divider


The Tempest has never been my favorite Shakespeare play, but Cohoe takes the idea of a magical island where spirits are tamed to do a master’s bidding and builds her own story around questions of identity, belonging, power, and love that had me riveted and wanting to know how protagonist Mae’s journey would end. From her initial desire to learn magic for herself and ensure she could keep the island as her home to her ultimate questioning of everything she’s ever known, I was cheering for her to find herself and get the happy ending she deserves.

While the structure of the story and the characterization initially seem straightforward (Mae wants to learn magic, to stay on the island, to catch the eye of one of the Prosper boys), I quickly realized that everything was a bit more convoluted than I expected. And every time I thought I had a handle on what was happening, Cohoe managed to nuance it even more. Every time I thought, “Oh, this character is a jerk” or, “Oh, this is what will happen next,” Cohoe mixed things up. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions, not entirely sure which characters I should be rooting for or what outcome I should be hoping for, as Cohoe ultimately shows that everyone is multi-faceted, and a single bad (or good) act doesn’t define someone.

I find I’m often fairly good at predicting what will happen in books, so it’s nice when I’m genuinely taken by surprise — and I love that in Bright Ruined Things it’s not because there’s some wild climatic event I didn’t seen coming; it’s because the characters keep surprising me again and again with their thoughts and their motivations and their actions. (And their evolving characterization is natural; Cohoe isn’t making them do out of character things for the sake of plot.) I love how it made me constantly reassess the characters and try to figure out what they were doing and why, as well as what was important to them.

The setting is also a nice touch, though I wouldn’t call it the main draw. The island itself feels very real; I could picture it as I read, from the paths Mae likes to the run to the spirits that create never-ending music in the sky. The 1920s aspect feels more inconsequential. Cohoe does describe some fashion and art of the era that make it clear that’s when the story is occurring, but I think the marketing suggesting Bright Ruined Things has a Great Gatsby vibe might be overblown.

Overall, this is a fantastically thoughtful and engaging book that stands out as something different in the crowded YA market.


William Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds


Goodreads: King Lear
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2007


Approaching old age, King Lear determines to divide his kingdom among his daughters.  But is a king still a king when he has given up all the trappings of royalty?  Gareth Hinds adapts one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies.


Gareth Hinds presents what seems to be a scholarly adaptation of what some consider Shakespeare’s best tragedy.  Complete with a preface about variations between the Quarto and Folio versions, a dramatis personae, and endnotes about the changes and excisions made, the work seems poised to save students everywhere from failing their Shakespeare exams.  But the seriousness of the text raises it above a study guide.  It’s clear that Hinds respects his source material and wants to present it in a way that’s both accessible and beautiful.  And he succeeds.

This adaptation does not have the rich colors of Hinds’s Romeo and Juliet, but it’s still in full color and Hinds makes some interesting stylistic choices sure to raise questions in the attentive reader.  The play begins in pastels but will encompass a variety of illustrations, including pages that are mostly white space and scenes shown as negatives.  Black-and-white drawings end the tale.  Each choice contributes a certain mood to the story, even if sometimes it seems like the message is too blatant.  “Bad stuff is happening here!” cry the negative drawings.

Some of the action becomes so cluttered that Hinds unfortunately has to provide lines to show the progression of the story. This, assuredly, is not the best layout option for a graphic novel; you want the scenes to flow without such obvious markers.  I’m not sure if we could argue that even these lines provide some sort of meaning to the story.  We’re all lost and confused like Lear?  We’re directionless without the king?  The world has gone crazy and what used to have meaning no longer does?  I guess we could stretch our interpretive powers, but it seems as if we shouldn’t have to.

Altogether, however, the book does a nice job illustrating the story and suggesting to readers the power the play can have.  Readers new to drama often need time to learn  how to stage the plays in their heads, how to hear the emotions, how to read the stage directions implicit in the dialogue.  The graphic novel brings this life.

3 starsKrysta 64

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds (A Graphic Novel Adaptation)

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Goodreads: Romeo and Juliet
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013


The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is a plague upon the city of Verona, where swordfights between the factions constantly break out in the streets.  How unfortunate then that Juliet Capulet should fall in love with Romeo Montague!  Gareth Hinds adapts Shakespeare’s famous play into a graphic novel.


Plenty of graphic novel versions of Shakespeare exists for the teen trying to get through high school or just ace the standardized test.  Many are geared specifically for these types of educational purposes, meaning that the artwork is often secondary to the desire for the creators to offer a legible text, whether that means putting Shakespeare’s words into modern English or otherwise adapting it for simplicity.  Gareth Hinds’ work, while dedicated to teachers, goes beyond mere utilitarian purposes; it is a work of art, not a study cheat sheet.

The artwork alone stands out.  Here you get glorious color, not cheap black-and-white, as well as a nice amount of detail.  The illustrations are layed out thoughtfully to create meaning in the text.  And the depictions of the characters show real emotion, real action.  You can tell there’s thought behind each scene, a real desire to convey the story and to elicit a response in the reader.  The art is not secondary here; it’s a part of the work.

The thoughtfulness of the illustrations actually makes it easier to follow the text even though Hinds doesn’t modernize it like a “No Fear” adaptation (though he does abridge the work).  It mirrors the action one might see on stage, so one can understand that a person is lying or a person is upset or a person is about to draw his sword. If you can’t follow the words, you can follow the art.

The words themselves are layed out thoughtfully.  Often graphic novels like these seem to put all the major speeches in one large block of text on a page.  This does not really work well in the graphic novel medium.  Hinds finds a way to break up the text and still make it clear that it’s all of a part.  He doesn’t lose the power of a speech by trying too hard to highlight that power.

All of this is interestingly part of a work that seems to want to present itself as somewhat scholarly.  It comes with a dramatis personae, with footnotes, with a note about the texts consulted.  It also explains the decision to present a multiracial story–not, Hinds says, to comment on race divisions but instead to highlight the “universality” of the play.  The implication is that this is a work to be taken seriously, even if graphic novels generally are not.

Altogether, reading this adaptation was a treat.  The artwork really makes the story come alive, suggesting the emotions and staging one might see in a theatre performance.  Those who find reading Shakespeare dull because they have difficult imagining the staging themselves might see the Bard anew through the eyes of Hinds.

4 starsKrysta 64

Discussion Post: Shakespeare for Children and Teens?

Shakespeare 2

Recently I have been looking into Shakespeare adaptations for youth, anything from picture books to young adult novels, and it seemed to me that a disproportionate amount of these adaptations are of the same plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  There are outliers, of course; there are at least a few Macbeth adaptations, at least one of The Tempest.  Histories, however, are definitely missing representation, as well as plays like The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Why is this?

In general, I think it has something to do with people perceiving particular plays as more relevant to teens than others.  They then teach those plays more often in high schools.  And then there’s an educational market for adaptations of those plays that makes them easier to sell than adaptations of other plays.

But is Romeo and Juliet actually more relevant to teens than, say, King Leer?  Below, I try to tease out why some people might think so.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and JulietThis is the ultimate “teen” Shakespeare play.  The protagonists are very clearly marked as teens, and they deal with problems that many of today’s youth can potentially relate to: differences of opinion with their parents, feeling stifled by family expectations, engaging in a forbidden love.  Sure, the shotgun wedding and suicides are a bit over the top, but this is drama; stuff happens.  The important part is that some of the themes are relatable; not all of them need to be.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's DreamThis has a lot in common with Romeo and Juliet.  The play opens with a daughter disagreeing with her father over what man she should marry and subsequently denying his authority over her.  From there, it’s a mad mess of romance—both returned and unrequited.  If the argument is that teens can relate to love stories and to fights with parents, this play provides everything an educator could ask for to keep students engaged.  Even better, it doesn’t have the awkward suicide ending.


hamletOphelia aside, this one stands out for its distinct lack of romance.  However, it seems to deal with the same questioning of parental authority figures that Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream do.  And while Hamlet’s exact age is often debated, a lot readers feel he at least gives off the vibe of being an angst-ridden teen.  The idea that Hamlet’s identity is uncertain, something he needs to sharpen and define, may also add to the sense that teens can particularly relate to him.

So what happens when other Shakespeare plays are adapted for teens?

Some adaptations, like Lady Macbeth’s Daughter, essentially construct a companion story, where teens and teen concerns are the focus—even if they never were in the original play.  Other adaptations try to rewrite the story in the modern age with youth protagonists, but this approach risks losing the themes and “feel” of the original play almost entirely.  For an example, check out Krysta’s disappointed review of Exposure, which changed Macbeth from a murderous soldier trying to usurp a country into a modern-day teen running for prom king. Somehow, the stakes just don’t seem as high in that scenario, and the focus on the danger of hubris starts fading away.  Can someone write a believable teen Macbeth?  Possibly, but it makes sense that authors have had more success with teen Hamlets and Juliets.

What do you think?  What Shakespeare plays did you read in high school?  Do you think some plays are easier to adapt for teens and children than others?