A timeless tale of star-crossed love set amid modern-day conflict.
Laskin’s novel in verse takes forbidden teen love à la Romeo and Juliet and sets it in present-day Israel. She portrays the Montagues and Capulets as Jews and Arabs, casting Ronit as the daring daughter of an Israeli pharmacist who falls for Jamil, the alluring son of a Palestinian doctor. What gives this contemporary reprise its ironic edge is that while the protagonists’ fathers work together and routinely set aside political differences in the service of healing the sick, their ingrained cultural prejudices prevent them from accepting that their beloved children have fallen for each other. Laskin is at pains to show how similar the teens are: they’ve been raised on the same foods—“hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush”—and both wish to buck convention, Ronit to duck her mandatory army service, Jamil to avoid following in his father’s footsteps to a career in medicine. Throughout, Laskin’s spare first-person poems and prefatory and end notes help educate young readers as to the gravity of the political stakes in this war-torn region where, while Ronit texts that “there is no separation barrier” between them, they both lament that their physical reality proves quite the opposite: “This wall / is so high; / 25 feet of concrete / 435 miles long.”
At once romantic and revealing, an important window into contemporary conditions in the Middle East. (Verse fiction. 14-18)