As the managing director of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, KY, author Heather Henson is not new to the world of writing or theater. In fact, her newest work, Wrecked, is a story distilled directly from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as Henson explains in her author’s notes. Like The Tempest – and many other Shakespearean plays – the father/daughter dynamics in Wrecked are nuanced and heartbreaking. Betrayal is a profound component, and tragedy is inevitable. Nevertheless, for every similarity there are differences, and the addition of Henson’s all-too-relevant rendering of the opioid epidemic sweeping the country in Wrecked is noteworthy.
Miri has been a long-time resident of the knobs, the forested outskirts of rural Kentucky that are “larger than hills, smaller than mountains.” She and her dad, Poe, have been living secluded in the forested hills since she was three – living an “end of the world as we know it” survivalist lifestyle, existing off the land and trading with their neighbors. Clay, a boy who was haphazardly delivered to their lives after his mother was sent to prison for cooking meth, is like a part of their small family, but other than him, Angel – Poe’s live-in girlfriend of a year – the animals they raise on their land, and June and Cyrus – the neighbors who provide them with the best home-churned butter – Miri and Poe are mostly on their own. That is, until new neighbors arrive “next door” and turn their world around.
When city-boy Fen moves in with dad, he is slow to adjust to rural Kentucky’s way of life – hours away from delivery pizza or even a Walmart – and the last thing he expects is to meet a local girl and fall in love. While Fen and Miri’s introduction is anything but a meet-cute, the rest of their tale unfolds fairly anticlimactically, especially for two teenagers. What these two drama-free teenagers don’t know, however, is that their lives and love story may be closer to that of Romeo and Juliet than they’d ever imagined.
Woven between the spaces of a story that mirrors a classic play, rife with love, betrayal, and, at its core, hope, is a story that covers another tragedy unto itself. Henson punctuates her already complex tale of young love and familial obligations with details of a widespread epidemic that has taken a weighty toll on the Southeast – that is, the opioid epidemic. Like Prospero in The Tempest hiding a magical power, Miri’s dad, Poe, is also hiding something: he is the Wizard of the knobs. He is the man who can fix any bike or machine. A man who can cook saltimbocca, homemade pesto gnocchi and other fancy dishes exclusively from the ingredients they grow and trade. What’s more, Poe can cook the cleanest, purest batch of meth in all the land. Clay, too, who has always been like a brother to Miri and a son to Poe, is tangled in the business, but to what extent is a mystery to all. Henson is able to add these details not only through the plot but through the elements as well. This is a story where the setting is as essential as the characters, as it is what lends itself as the perfect background for these characters and their stories to unfold – the secluded woods where a major meth lab is underway, where life and secrets can be tucked away and hidden from even those with a front-seat view.
All-in-all, this contemporary retelling of a Shakespearean classic is full of the intrigues an audience would expect in order to gain their attention and loyalty. Henson brings to life modernized characters in this mature YA novel that speaks to a new audience about the burdens and fears that plague our country today. This text would do well in academic settings to show that sensitive subjects, complicated characters and vibrant world-building can be done concisely in less than three hundred pages.
By Heather Henson
Simon & Schuster
Published on: March 15, 2022