Rewriting history

February 25, 2008

It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment story. Haven’t you ever yearned to rescue Romeo and Juliet? If you’re a writer like me, you spent many hours of your childhood “fixing” the endings of R&J, The Yearling, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… This is a fabulous and funny novel for the young and young at heart. Thanks to Melissa at Estella’s Revenge for a review that does it justice:

Saving Juliet
Written by Suzanne Selfors
Walker Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by Melissa

You know about the books that change your life. There are the ones that make you cry buckets. And the romances: books with characters that make you swoon. And then there are those books that leave you with a silly grin on your face because they’re just so darn cute.

Saving Juliet is one of those “silly grin” books.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Reading the book made me happy; not because it was deep, profound, life changing or even because I was totally swooning over the main characters. But because it was sweet, cute, silly, fun, snarky, and… happy. Just perfect for a cold, dreary, gray day outside.

The basic conceit is simple: Mimi Wallingford, the great-granddaughter of famous stage (Shakespearean!) actress Adelaide Wallingford, wants the freedom to choose her own life. To get away from her uber-controlling mom. To do something other than act in Shakespearean plays (she’s been acting since she was three!). To stop being Juliet to pop star Troy Summer’s Romeo. And on the day of her final performance, she gets her wish: she’s transported (with Troy) to Verona Italy, circa 1594, right in the middle of Shakespeare’s play.

It could have been a very sappy, cloying story. It was sappy, but it had a healthy dose of silly and snark to make up for it. It could have been a typical “finding yourself” teenage story. Of course it was a finding yourself teenage story, but not many teenagers find themselves in 16th-century Italy. Selfors’s writing style is charming and snarky at the same time. She doesn’t attempt to make the story serious, or to take the whole book seriously, and as a result, it works wonderfully. I loved Mimi as a narrator: she’s not above telling it like it is, even when it embarrasses her. Even when it involves bodily functions in the 16th century. And because she treats the unbelievablity of the situation (I mean really: traveling through time into a play?) with humor, it works, and you believe it.

I warned you at the beginning that you might not believe the story I was about to tell, so you’ve probably anticipated this moment. You may also have read the book’s jacket copy so you know that at some point I am going to take an unexpected trip. I did not have the luxury of a book jacket, however, to prepare me, so I felt totally bewildered.

I was hooked.

I liked that Selfors knows Romeo and Juliet inside and out; it gives her the ability to seamlessly both include and diverge from it. I liked the clever asides that Mimi makes about the situation she’s found herself in, like the realization that everyone’s speaking English (and not Shakespearean, much less Italian), and the implications that has for her adventures. I liked that both Romeo and Juliet were fleshed out, growing beyond their usual roles of doomed star-crossed lovers. I liked the roles Mimi played, from damsel in distress, to love-struck herself, to, finally, a confident young woman who knows what she wants, and feels like she can achieve it.

But mostly, it’s a very cute love story, a fun historical adventure, a smart homage to one of the greatest playwrights the English language has produced.

Which just left a smile on my face.

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