56 pages 1 hour read

Gordon Korman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Gordon Korman is the author of Whatshisface, a novel for young readers published in 2018. Whatshisface centers on two boys from different centuries who work together to expose the truth about William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Romeo and Juliet (1595). As the story merges Shakespeare and Elizabethan England with the present, it’s a historical novel, a ghost story, and a comedy. Whatshisface is also heartfelt, tackling themes like The Search for Belonging, Keeping Secrets, and Linking the Past and Present

The page numbers refer to the 2018 Scholastic edition.

Content Warning: This source text depicts bullying and insensitive remarks about mental health.

Plot Summary

Cooper Vega is 12 years old and starting seventh grade. His dad is in the military, so Cooper moves often; Stratford Middle is his fifth school in three years. While his older teen sister, Veronica, fits in right away, the other kids call Cooper “Whatshisface,” “kid,” or “The New Kid.” Among his worst bullies is a boy named Brock Bumgartner. Jolie Solomon—a girl who plays extreme sports—befriends Cooper.

Jolie tells Cooper about the history of Stratford. The town used to be called Three Rivers until a billionaire named Somerset Wolfson III agreed to buy an expensive property there if it changed its name to Stratford. Wolfson idolizes the canonized English playwright William Shakespeare, whose hometown was Stratford, England. Next to Wolfson’s mansion is a private museum, where Wolfson displays Shakespeare’s folios (manuscripts) and an array of items from Elizabethan England. There are rumors that Wolfson has a secret room for Shakespeare memorabilia that he illegally acquired. The seventh grade performs a Shakespeare play each year funded by Wolfson. This year, the students will perform Romeo and Juliet.

The play takes over the school, and all the seventh graders get to audition. Aside from extreme sports, Jolie loves acting, and she gets the part of Juliet. Brock is cast as Romeo, and Cooper as the Second Watchman (he only has one line). Cooper worries that Jolie will start liking Brock. He also worries about his phone, the GX-4000: a pricey bribe that his parents got him for moving again. Despite its expense, the phone is glitchy. It makes weird noises and its the pictures feature a white blur.

One night, the phone screen swirls and a boy appears. The 13-year-old is Roderick Barnabas Northrop—Roddy—and he is from 1596. He’s a printer’s apprentice and an orphan. His mom died of the bubonic plague, and authorities executed his dad, a frustrated inventor, as they thought he was a warlock. Life in the 21st century amazes Roddy and, much to Cooper’s dismay, he will not keep quiet. His constant talking causes problems for Cooper both at school and at home.

Cooper realizes that Roddy died of the bubonic plague in 1596, making Roddy a ghost trapped inside Cooper’s phone. When Cooper takes a picture, Roddy can fly out and experience the world before being tugged back into the phone. Soon, Roddy teaches himself to leave the phone so he can explore 2018 on his own. Roddy also teaches Cooper how to stand up to Brock and talk to Jolie.

During a rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet, Roddy realizes that the kids are performing his play, Barnabas and Ursula. The shop Roddy worked for printed plays, and Shakespeare and other playwrights regularly visited. Roddy read these plays and was so inspired that he began writing his own: Barnabas and Ursula. He thought playwriting would be his path out of his abusive work environment, but he died before he could finish it. Shakespeare must have discovered the incomplete manuscript and plagiarized it. Roddy does not think of Shakespeare as the greatest writer ever, but as a mediocre talent and a fraud.

Wolfson invites the seventh graders to his museum. During their tour, Roddy notices a door to the rumored secret gallery. Cooper takes a picture so that Roddy can leave the camera and explore this mysterious space. Returning, Roddy tells Cooper that he saw his manuscript. Cooper confronts Wolfson about the true author of Romeo and Juliet, but Wolfson dismisses his question. When Cooper mentions Barnabas and Ursula, Wolfson ends the field trip. Roddy wants to expose Wolfson, but Cooper doesn’t think it’s feasible. Roddy is a ghost, and Cooper is a 12-year-old kid—no one will believe them.

Roddy wants Cooper to play Romeo. Thanks to Roddy, Cooper knows Romeo’s lines. To get Cooper the part, Roddy’s ghostly spirit attacks Brock while he’s riding a BMX bike to impress Jolie. Brock falls and is hurt. Cooper is upset with Roddy for assaulting Brock, but Roddy doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Brock is a bully, and his injuries are temporary—he’ll recover.

Cooper and Roddy reconcile and devise a plan to get the manuscript. The morning of the play, they make an acidic mixture in the science lab that can burn through locks. They bike 45 minutes to Wolfson’s property, only to find that Roddy’s mixture cannot burn the lock to the secret gallery. They eventually manage to get the gallery keys from a guard and escape with the manuscript.

Cooper is late for the performance, and both his parents and the cast are upset with him. On stage, he forgets his troubles by losing himself in the play. The actors give inspired performances, but once the play is done, Cooper sees Wolfson with two police officers. Before they can arrest him, he tells the audience about Roddy and the original manuscript. The audience cheers wildly, and Roddy’s ghostly form takes a dramatic bow before he and his manuscript vanish. No one is sure what happened. Since the police can’t find the manuscript, Wolfson drops the charges.

Cooper and Jolie become boyfriend and girlfriend, and even Brock remembers his name most of the time. What pleases Cooper most is the bond he made with Roddy, who texts Cooper that he will never forget him.