Arts & Culture

Local Author Molly Horton Booth Reimagines ‘Twelfth Night’ with Wit and Charm

With a focus on inclusivity, the graphic novelist takes the circa-1601 play and plops it into a modern world of proms, social media, and horny teenagers.
—Photography by Micah E. Wood

Molly Horton Booth’s version of Twelfth Night isn’t your mother’s William Shakespeare.

In Twelfth Grade Night, the graphic novelist takes the circa-1601 play and plops it into a modern world of proms, social media, and horny teenagers, including Vi, a non-binary student (with a twin brother, of course) who is looking for a fresh start at the fictional Arden High.

“There’s gender identity and love triangles,” says Booth, 33, who uses they/she pronouns. “It’s super swoony—and there’s grief flowing through it.”

So, all in all, your typical high school.

Booth, a self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd who has written two other Bard-themed novels, has always gravitated toward young adult fiction, known as YA. That’s because they love the idea of coming- of-age books where the protagonist is getting to ask the question: “Who am I, really?”

The genre’s appeal is “getting to explore those thoughts and how do I fit into the world,” Booth says. “Those don’t stop after you stop being a teenager, but it is the first visceral time that it’s hitting you like a train.”

Growing up in Massachusetts, Booth “didn’t know I was queer; didn’t know I was non-binary,” mostly because the world around them didn’t seem to acknowledge that those were options.

“As I got older and started reading more of the YA genre and seeing more of myself, I was like, oh my God,” they say, noting that if they had read a book like Twelfth Grade Night—where characters are happily and healthily exploring their genders and sexuality—it would have been life-changing. “I would have recognized myself in the main character and that would have been pretty freeing and great.”

Instead, Booth, who lives in Baltimore with their partner Reyn, now gets to do just that for a new generation of kids, with the next installation of their Arden High seriesKing Cheer—out in October.

Like King Lear, “It’s very funny, even though it’s a tragedy,” says Booth. The books are co-written by both Booth and Los Angeles novelist Stephanie Kate Strohm, who were introduced by their editor at Disney Hyperion, and illustrated by Chicago artist Jamie Green.

It’s a shared partnership that works—between the three of them—and with Disney. “The editors are basically, ‘Go where you want to go and we’ll follow you,’ and for the most part that has been the experience,” says Booth.

They’re also in the very early stages of other book projects.

“Nothing to do with Shakespeare,” Booth smiles, their big, easy laugh filling the room. But it continues the conversation about inclusivity. “I’m just naturally a teacher. I want to help young people.”