This beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza.
Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the barrier fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred. Ronit and Jamil fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can be kept secret for only so long. Soon, the teenage lovers must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.
Rating: 1 Star
There were a lot of things in this book that made it a title that I was looking forward to this year: a Romeo & Juliet retelling, a story involving the Israel/Palestine conflict, it was written in verse. However, the sum of all these parts did not lead to the exciting or interesting final product that I was hoping for.
This book sounded as though it was going to be amazing in a few ways.
A Romeo & Juliet retelling has a lot of potential because not only is it a classic love story, but there are many ways for a modern interpretation to be told: you can stick with the classic events (i.e. the ending is the same), you can invent a happy ending, you can do a mix and pull a West Side Story. While I thought that Pamela L. Laskin’s idea about bringing the classic story into the modern era, particular along the Israel/Palestine divide, it failed for me because:
- the method of telling the story in verse meant that a lot of details about the story got lost. Stories written in verse can be immensely successful; just ask Ellen Hopkins and her long line of titles. However, Laskin’s style was too lyrical to make much sense. I couldn’t understand what she meant half the time and the few instances where the lines did make sense, they were throw away lines that weren’t important to the meat of the story.
- the points of view were next to impossible to tell apart with the exception of when Laskin used identifying words (i.e. Ronit’s word for her father or Jamil’s for his mother). This made it hard to sink into the story and really enjoy it. She says in the afterword that this was intentional, but I didn’t understand why. It detracted too much, in my opinion.
- the main characters Ronit & Jamil were insufferable. Whether this was because they were based so closely on the original Romeo & Juliet or because this is how the author decided to portray teenagers is irrelevant because that decision coupled with their actions made them impossible to like. All of their actions, their decision to enter into this “relationship”, is based entirely on sex. There are numerous passages emphasizing this, when Ronit talks of raising her skirt so Jamil can explore beneath it or Jamil echoes this sentiment in his own words.Considering the fact that this is a retelling, if their behavior is because they were based on the original characters, then I can’t really find an excuse for this. A retelling provides an author with the chance to change and improve rather than sticking with the same old horrible behavior. Not doing so in this respect, even though there is a rather significant change in the novel, confused me and ultimately made me like the novel even less.
What I did like about the story was that it brought attention to Israel & Palestine. While it isn’t by any means a definitive work or even a very in-depth one, it did inspire interest in finding out more about it, so in that respect it was successful.
I think that this story would have been a lot better if it had either a) been written in a clearer manner of verse or b) not written in verse at all and rather given the chance to expand itself in a general novel manner. Lacking either of those improvements in this final edition of the book, I have to give it a rating of 1 star.