December 11, 2012

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

Romeo didn't belong with Juliet; he belonged with me. It was supposed to be us together forever, and it would have been if she hadn't come along and stolen him away. Maybe then all of this could have been avoided. Maybe then they'd still be alive.What if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one?
-from When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

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I have always been a sucker for "fractured fairy tales" and classic stories being retold by new voices (I think that's why I love Disney movies so much!). I have also always been a sucker for Shakespeare, in awe of the way he uses the dynamics of relationships to create stories that are as mind-blowing today as they were centuries ago when they were written. So when I heard about Rebecca Serle's When You Were Mine, it was essentially book candy on which I wanted to overdose!

Set in modern day southern California, When You Were Mine is the retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet from the perspective of Rosaline (are you as absolutely giddy over the premise as I was?! It's probably sad that I'm not being sarcastic at all right now!). If you don't remember Rosaline from middle school English class, she's the girl Romeo was madly in love with at the beginning of the play; until he met Juliet, of course. The first thing I thought of when I heard about this book was, "Why hasn't anyone else done this already?? Why didn't I think of this?!"  (Honestly, maybe it has been done, but not to my knowledge).

So the idea is great, but what about the execution? I had high hopes when I started reading and overall I feel like the story delivered, but I admit I had to keep reminding myself that this is a contemporary Young Adult novel. Rob Montag and Rose Caplet are high school students who have been next door neighbors most of their lives. They have grown up as best friends but their friendship is beginning to blossom into more, much to Rose's excitement. But when her cousin Juliet moves back to town (after years of being estranged from Rose's family for a political scandal, no less), Rob becomes more interested in Juliet, leaving Rose (friendship and all) in the dust.

The story line and narration was very "high school" and I found myself becoming exhausted at times, like I was truly listening to a teenage girl babble. In one sense, this made me consider Serle as an incredible writer because she was authentically able to capture the voice of teenage Rose and maintain that voice throughout the novel. However, it did make reading taxing at times; almost everything Rose said consisted of her reflecting on something that had happened to her and her friends previously (think, "One time. At band camp...."). This did not slow my reading down necessarily (I inhaled the novel in 1 day), but I felt all of these side stories did affect the pace of the novel. I think it also made me feel self-conscious, like, is this what I sounded like at this age? (Don't answer that, Mom!).

But we're seventeen now, not seven, and I'm not sure how 
to act. Rob's better at this. He can talk to anyone about 
anything. One time we went to Colonial Williamsburg on
a trip with our parents, and he talked to the shoemaker 
for an hour about their mutual love of the Lakers. I didn't
even know colonial people watched television, but Rob 
got it out of him. His smile just kind of melts people

Aside from this Young Adult novel sounding like a super young adult (trying to emphasize that I can't really fault the novel for my biggest complaint), I really enjoyed the characters, the plot and especially the parallels between Shakespeare's version. The main characters were likable, especially Rose and her best friends. The only characters I wish the story would have given more dimension to are Rob and Juliet. I thought Rob was well developed until he fell for Juliet; I couldn't understand why such a great guy would go for this snotty girl, which made me feel like maybe I didn't understand Rob at all. (Of course, I'm sure Rose felt the same way and she is the narrator, after all). I was disappointed that there was not more depth to Juliet as well, but I suppose it's only fair that her side was mostly omitted from this story, as Rosaline's was cut out of the original.

What makes this novel stand out to me is how many emotions are vicariously experienced while reading: hopeful, happy, disappointed, angry, jealous, frustrated, sad, guilty, lonely, desperate, grieved, peaceful, and right back around to hopeful (there are probably a dozen more I left out). It's an extreme love story (we all know how it ends), but told by the perspective of Rose it's refreshing and introduces the point of view of those who lived after Romeo and Juliet died. What is most rewarding toward the end is how Serle paints the picture of Rose's grief on top of a shattered heart. Without giving too much away, I feel like the conclusion was heartwarming and hopeful, despite its tragedy. Serle gives us something familiar that we can mourn differently than the first time we heard this tale. 

Bottom Line: If you're a sucker for Romeo & Juliet, this is a must-read. If you're a sucker for YA I highly recommend this, too! This would make a great Christmas gift for the teenage girl in your life or any lover of Shakespeare and/or classic romances! // 4½/5 stars. {rounding up!}

Are you a fan of "fractured fairy tales" or classic stories told in a new way? What is your favorite interpretation of an old classic (i.e. Wicked, The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc)?

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