A lusty, if lengthy, retelling of Romeo and Juliet from the nurse’s perspective.
With the largest number of lines in Shakespeare’s play after the two lovers, wet nurse Angelica takes center stage in Leveen’s (The Secrets of Mary Bowser, 2012) second novel, which begins 14 years before the fateful five days spanned by the drama. Angelica’s tale is one of poverty and sorrow tempered by a long and happy marriage. Her six sons were victims of the plague that periodically afflicted the Italian city of Verona in the 14th century, and as the novel opens, she is about to lose a seventh child, a daughter, born on Lammas Eve, the same day on which Lady Cappelletta gives birth to Juliet. Angelica’s husband, Pietro, with whom she has spent more than 30 devoted, sexually fulfilling years, accepts the assistance of Friar Lorenzo and steers Angelica away from her grief into the role of live-in wet nurse to Juliet. And the plan works: Angelica becomes wholly devoted to her new charge, forming a bond that begins to matter more than her marriage. Pietro’s subsequent death in one of the many violent incidents afflicting the unruly city only intensifies Angelica’s commitment to her young mistress. By the time Romeo puts in his first appearance, in the book’s final quarter, the stage is set for the inevitable events, although Leveen adds to the tension with a plot modification all her own. Lingering over Angelica’s emotional dilemmas and the political feuding, the author’s long-anticipated focus on the star-crossed lovers seems almost incidental when it arrives. After the tragedy unfolds, it’s left to Angelica to live on and mourn.
Leveen’s enthusiastic historical novel pushes the classic teenage romance aside to give greater weight to a mother’s love and losses.