Review: Ophelia After All

Title: Ophelia After All

Author: Racquel Marie

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Released: Feb 8 2022

Rating: ★★★★★

“Hamlet would make a great lesbian.”

Racquel Marie, Ophelia After All

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an audio ARC.

Racquel Marie has nailed her debut. I spent a long time putting this review off, because I didn’t want to write a series of shallow praises and forget about it, but really dig my hands into the soil and feel into the root of everything I love about Ophelia After All. (Gardening-themed idioms are allowed for this book, right?) From a cast of characters full of lovable young adults coming into their own to themes of self-identification and the queer yearning for happily ever after, Ophelia After All reveals a beating heart full of love and exploration.

From the publisher:

Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.

So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love—and sexuality—never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.

First things first, I’m always seeking out books with racial and cultural diversity in its themes and characters, and I’m always thrilled to see Latinx stories flourishing in queer YA. The queer rep as well?? Immaculate. I won’t say who or when but the conversation about asexuality is so wholesome and heartfelt.

Our heroine herself, Ophelia, struggles throughout the book to identify with any of the myriad of labels to explain how she feels. She’s never had to do so before, since, for the most part, her experiences have all been assumed straight. Not that Ophelia has ever said this is the case. The issue of heteronormativity runs throughout Ophelia’s narrative. Her struggle to break free of the pigeonholes she’s been put in to embrace the entirety of her ever-evolving personhood is written with grace and dimension.

Ophelia’s namesake is the tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet. (Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1894)

Like any queer teenager, Ophelia’s sexuality isn’t the only thing she’s dealing with as she works her way through her senior year of highschool, makes plans for the perfect prom, and holds her friendships together. The importance of platonic relationships is central to the novel, and the narrative arcs Ophelia shares with her friends—notably those with Sammie, Talia, and Wesley I thought were particularly profound!—are rich with growing pains and the love that holds firm regardless. Most especially for queer teens I think this is an important reminder that romantic connections are not necessarily the most important kind of love, and definitely shouldn’t be the “goal” of queer relationships.

I must of course mention the partial namesake and its relation to Shakespeare. I would be lying if that wasn’t one of the first points of interest for a nerd like me. While Ophelia After All is not a retelling or necessarily a reimagining of the Bard’s works, the inspiration is scattered throughout Ophelia’s journey. She herself reflects on the quotes she loves, and designates specific types of roses to each of her loved ones for its symbolic meaning, much as the Ophelia of Hamlet hands out flowers but leaves herself only rue, for her regret. I have recently been thinking about the representation of young adult readers in fiction targeted to that very demographic, and Ophelia’s love for Shakespeare shows readers that they should be readers, and even old Shakespeare can be enjoyable (and relevant!) too.

The narration that Maria Liatis delivers is smooth and honest, delivering different character lines without making a caricature of them—and therefore not compartmentalising them as the novel explores. Liatis deals with this issue with ease.

The landscape for YA protagonists is changing, and Ophelia Rojas is a heroine for the ages. Racquel Marie could not have been more equipped to handle a novel of this depth, and for her first book too! Already I will insta-read anything from her in the future. Ophelia After All is such a beautiful story of love in all its forms that explores such important questions for queer youth in an age of endless labels and identifiers.

Women History Month by Nicole Medina

Also bonus points for the colours of the lesbian flag being represented in the cover art thanks very much Nicole Medina for that stroke of genius. 🧡

Published by Leigh Briar

Leigh Briar is a writer and poet living and writing on Kaurna land. She has been published primarily in student newspapers and local community publications, and also produce zines exploring the relationship between emotional healing and the written word. Her story “Entirely Perfect in (Almost) Every Way” was highly commended in the 2021 Feast Festival Short Story Competition.

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