We have all tried to stay awake in English literature lessons as the teacher at the front of the class goes on and on about Shakespeare. Countless students have been put off the playwright after studying his work in school. Sometimes the only thing a student gets out of such a lesson is that Shakespeare can be difficult and boring. Old William Shakespeare himself would probably be dismayed at this legacy, because he wrote his plays to be performed in a theatre and not to be studied in school. And the ordinary people in the audiences who watched his plays 400 years ago thought they were cool and exciting and couldn't wait for the next one to be written. Shakespeare was not the dull and dry writer that a lot of us imagine. He was a clever craftsman turning out plays that his fans loved. But the distance of time and the fact that he was so good that he is worth studying 400 years later have given a false impression of his genius to thousands of people all over the world. It is time that Shakespeare was brought to life. And Jan Mark's novel Stratford Boys does this brilliantly. Mark's hero is 15-year-old William Shakespeare, an energetic lad who carries along the novel's plot at a lively pace. Shakespeare is a warts-and-all teenager who is faced with a challenge and deals with it as best he can. Mark presents him as an ordinary teenager on a mission to do something not all that earth-shattering. A group of kids in the small town of Statford decide to put on a play to entertain the townsfolk. Will, the son of a glove maker, is given the job of writing the script. So far, so good. Will decides he quite enjoys this play-writing thing. He produces his first script and the fun begins. This gang of motley youngsters has to shape up into a competent company capable of putting on a play. Mark surrounds Shakespeare with a wonderful ill-assorted cast of characters. Will they ever get it together and get the show on the road? Of course, but Mark takes us on an action and fun-packed journey until the play is finally performed. Stratford Boys brings Shakespeare thrillingly to life, just like imaginative productions of his plays do today in theatres all around the world. A poor production of a Shakespeare play can be a bottom-numbing experience but a production in the hands of an imaginative director can be mind-blowing. Jan Mark's Shakespeare is just one of a gang of lads on a mission. His story is a fun-filled adventure. The play must go on! Stratford Boys By Jan Mark Published by Hodder ISBN 0 340 86098 7 John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com .