West Side Story: A Novelization by Irving Shulman

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The author can’t capture the music and dancing of the musical, but he makes up for it with backstories that build on the plot in interesting ways.

🖋 🖋🖋 The story is written in that pulpy, mass market paperback style so popular in the 1960s, and for the most part it still works. Some of the dialogue feels archaic and the writing melodramatic, but in the end this style fits. West Side Story has always been a romantic, almost overripe melodrama, and pulpy writing captures that atmosphere without making it overwrought.


Published November 16, 2021 by Gallery Books (first printed in 1963)

Written by Irving Shulman, based on the play conceived by Jerome Robbins

ISBN: 9781982147150

Genre: Fiction, Romance

🔪🔪🔪🔪  Various scenes of gang violence, stabbings and shootings, references to weapons. Blood and gore are always minimized, with more emphasis on how people react to the story.ove the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 There is one scene which features an attempted rape, described with no anatomical details.

💣 Occasional use of 1960s racial slurs, or dated slang.

💋💋💋 One sex scene described with minimal detail, a fight scene involving attempted rape, and various scenes of teenagers referencing sexual activity.


Whether you’ve seen the story on stage, watched the 1961 film or Steven Spielberg’s remake, West Side Story is a story that continues to enchant new generations. This novelization by Irving Shulman puts the musical’s dialogue and plot in book format, with some changes. Since musical numbers don’t translate into novel scenes, one dance scene (Tony and Maria meeting at the community center’s dance) remains, the others are left out. New lines of dialogue supplement scenes, making up for moments where musical solos moved the plot along.

Shulman also gives characters more backstory. Maria and Benardo’s parents show up in several scenes, instead of being offstage the entire time. Tony’s family life (where his father is, his own immigrant status since he was born in Poland) gets more detail. Minor characters – particularly Baby-John, a young Jet with a passion for comic books – get fleshed out, becoming more than just side roles. Shulman uses a third-person narrator voice to give setting details about 1960s New York City, and the role that gangs played in its culture.

Given that this novel is based on a musical, one would expect it to rehash the musical’s plot without adding much. In fact, Shulman makes some clever additions. Adding the aforementioned backstories lets him probe the characters’ motivations, making it clearer what drives their destructive behavior. The narrator’s voice lets him describe past events – what kind of violent acts the Jets and Sharks usually do, etc. – which highlight how the Jets and Sharks affect their neighborhood. The musical focuses on how the Jets and Sharks interact with each other, their rivalry that feels so all-important. Shulman shows how everyone outside the gangs see both gangs a threat, and comments on just how many other gangs are in New York City.

These narrator’s details add interesting commentary to the story. Showing how subjective the Jets and Sharks are makes it clear that their justifications (“protecting the street from outsiders”) are flimsy. It also helps Shulman put one of the musical’s implied themes in the forefront: this is a story about people busy dying young. They live violently and not for very long, unless they find something beyond the gangs. This makes Tony and Maria’s doomed love affair, their chance to find something new, all the more tragic. West Side Story isn’t quite the same without the music, but this novel shows that a good musical’s plot is compelling on paper as well.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Dear Henchman by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It trades some of the previous book’s pathos for more humor, but the characters and comedy are still spot-on.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The “characters texting/emailing each other” concept reads clearer in this book, and the sassy dialogue is as good as ever.


Published May 2021 by INtense Publications

ISBN: 9781954601031

Series: Dear Hero #2

Genre: Fiction, Superhero, Comedy, Romance, Chat Fiction

🔪 🔪 Various fight scenes, some played for slapstick comedy or dark humor, and occasional bloody details.
💋 💋 With some of the previous book’s characters now dating, the romantic chatter and kissing/cuddling has gone up a notch, but nothing overtly sexual happens.


Once upon a time, Kevin and Himari were just sidekicks working for a superhero and supervillain that happened to fall in love with each other. Himari happened to be the superhero’s sister as well as the villain’s sidekick, which made things awkward. Now, Vortex has given up the nastier side of supervillain work, so the four of them get along fine. In fact, Kevin is beginning to realize that he and Himari are, well… perhaps getting along too well. Unless, that is, they want to take a new direction. All those ideas stall when a strangely polite villain hits his hero, Cortex, with a serum that strips him of powers. Now Kevin and Himari have to infiltrate the Shadow Assassins and find out what new threat is coming for the superhero world … and maybe get closer to each other along the way.


The authors take a character who mostly served as campy comic relief in the previous book (Dear Hero), and successfully reveal new depths in him. Kevin proves to be funny, flawed and human enough to carry the protagonist role, while his friends each have great moments along the way. The antagonist is built on the idea, “what if a polite Midwestern guy was also a supervillain?” which makes him highly entertaining, too. Just when it looks like he’s the Jim Carrey figure in this superhero comedy, hints of his backstory show that there’s something more substantial going on. As the second act develops, the authors use these details to go deeper into the “do we really need superheroes?” themes of Dear Hero.


Arguably, if there’s a problem with Dear Henchman, it’s that given the antagonist’s backstory, he could have been a lot darker. Adding more bite to his behavior could have given the plot more sense of danger, deep bass notes to complement the lighter material. However, going too far down that path might have made the story too dark. Most superhero deconstruction stories are pretty brutal, as anyone knows who has read Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke. Both Dear Hero and Dear Henchman aim for witty humor over harsh realism, so the authors’ choice to go lighter makes sense. Fortunately, the humor is smart and satirical enough to make up for any sense that the book is lightweight.


A very entertaining sequel, and a great example of telling a funny superhero story without descending too far into camp.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Dear Hero by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ One of the very few books that truly is laugh-out loud funny.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 As a book made up of characters’ texts/emails to each other, it doesn’t have a “recognizable writer’s voice.” That being said, the writers organize events clearly, the formatting is well done, and characters’ dialogue clearly sets them apart.


Published September 2020 by INtense Publications, ISBN: 978-1947796799

Series: Dear Hero #1

Genre: Fiction, Superhero, Comedy, Romance, Chat Fiction

🔪 🔪 Being superheroes and supervillains, the characters organize their lives around fights (minor and major), but the violence is described in minimal terms.
💋 There is increasing “romantic chatter” as the story goes along and a few brief kissing scenes, nothing more explicit.


In a world not unlike our own, superheroes and supervillains exist. But they have a problem: how to find nemeses to fight on a regular basis? Enter Meta Match, an app that allows heroes and villains to meet up and plan fights. Cortex needs a new villain fast, so he uses the site to connect with another young kid on the block: the nefarious Vortex. They hit it off well, but as they get to know each other better… it may be that they’re hitting it off in ways they never planned.


Chat fiction, much like choose your own adventure stories, is a concept that sounds great but is hard to do well. Roat and Bolinger overcome this problem by replicating many kinds of chat rooms – text messages, online message boards, mistyped emails. The descriptions of fickle side characters trying to dominate online discussions makes the story clever and also topical. They also have a great ear for dialogue – smart-aleck comments, villains joking about what they do to their victims, etc. This makes it easy to tell the characters apart, even in the most complicated battle scenes where several characters are sharing messages about what’s happening.


As far as the superhero elements go, the authors use the romantic elements to consider a classic question: what cost does the superhero life carry? The story begins feeling like a Marvel story, but slowly gets darker as the protagonists consider whether these fights are really just games, and whether the game will leave them cynical. The plot never enters grungy Zack Snyder territory, but faces these questions honestly while keeping things witty.


All told, Bolinger and Roat produce a highly entertaining read. This book will appeal equally to superhero fans interested in a prose take on the genre’s tropes, or romantic comedy fans seeking a new angle on the “enemies become something else” trope.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.