Boy meets boy and falls in love in this angst-y modern reworking of Romeo and Juliet set in Winnipeg.
In this latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous love story, the plot does not matter nearly as much as the characters’ sexual orientations. The lovers this time are Julian Capulet, a gay 19-year-old who uses his painting to hide from the world after being bullied, and Romeo Montague, a closeted teen jock who indulges in gay bashing to avoid confronting his sexuality. The world that Harwood-Jones depicts in this pair of companion novels (Romeo for Real tells the tale from Romeo’s point of view), in which gender fluidity is completely accepted and mothers dole out condoms and allow their children to have sex at home without judgment, feels so fantastical that it proves how far society still has to go in the quest for true acceptance. The author’s passion for diversity is evident, but the novels feel so packed with nonconformity that characters become political statements rather than three-dimensional people. Nearly every character lies somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, and God is referred to as female, which, while laudable, feels forced at certain points. While the theme of star-crossed teenage lovers is timeless, the novels’ viselike grip on names and plot points from Shakespeare’s play drives them into the realm of the hyperbolic. Julian is implied at least part Chinese due to his mother’s surname, but race is indeterminate for all characters. Despite their flaws, these novels provide much-needed representation for those whom society marginalizes.
Imperfect yet earnest works celebrating love in all forms for reluctant teen readers. (Fiction. 14-17)