A sweet story of young love amid middle school theatrics.
Matilda, who goes by Mattie, is an exceptionally thoughtful white teen who at times drives her closest friends nuts with her uncertainty and need for time to think. However, her pensiveness serves her well as the whole eighth grade, under the guidance of her favorite teacher, Mr. Torres, sets out to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mattie truly connects with the play, so when the male lead is injured and backs out of the production, she is a natural choice for assuming the trousers role as Romeo. The only potential problem is her nerves, since she has begun to develop more-than-friends feelings for her Juliet, the charismatic white English transplant Gemma. Mattie’s genuine inflections and stream-of-consciousness narrative resonate well with the early-adolescent experience. Mattie is fortunate to have a very supportive family, loyal friends, and a mentor teacher as well as diverse classmates that are perhaps more tolerant than most middle schoolers realistically are. This idealized, benevolent society lends a very rosy tinge to a tale of questioning one’s burgeoning sexuality, which may feel false to some older or more jaded readers. Nevertheless, readers cannot help but root for Mattie as she discovers bravery she never gave herself credit for, both onstage and in life.
While the plot revolves around Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, this story is far from one. (Fiction. 9-13)