Once again, the Bard provides the framework for tragically misunderstood young love—but must he?
This time, Jones (Freedom Flight, 2015) renders his take on Romeo and Juliet in very real North Minneapolis, the neighborhood known nationally for the #justice4jamar protests held in the city over one of the latest victims of police brutality, Jamar Clark. The novel’s Romeo is Rodney, a young African-American man returning to Northeast High after a stint in juvenile detention. Juliet is Jawahir, a ninth-grade Somali teen whom Rodney rescues during a vicious cafeteria fight between “the descendants of slaves [and] the offspring of Somali war refugees.” While the school’s white female principal, sarcastically nicknamed “Ally,” upholds Rodney’s rescue of Jawahir and their relationship as a can’t-we-all-just-get-along moment in the midst of the internecine intraracial conflict that extends beyond the school’s walls, Rodney and Jawahir just want to see each again and, ultimately, consummate their love. And, if readers are familiar with the classic play, they’ll know how their love ends. Jones veers too closely to creating Minneapolis' Somali community as Muslim stereotypes of the brutal men oppressing their women, as Jawahir's father and promised betrothed, Farhan, are written. Three other titles in the Unbarred series—Duty or Desire (Antony and Cleopatra), Fight or Flee (Hamlet), and Friend or Foe (Othello)—publish simultaneously.
This book’s advent comes too closely to North Minneapolis’ recent and long-term misfortunes created from poverty, high unemployment, gentrification—and, yes, police brutality—to warrant a fictional tragedy, even if it’s based on a classic one. (Fiction. 12-16)