Romeo And Juliet, Redux

Kate Davies is looking for YA novels that reflect or parallel Romeo and Juliet, with or without the tragic death at the end (and, I would hope, without the wishywashy bonerdeath that is ol’ Romeo):

I’m a former English teacher who’s signing up for a class on Modern Literature in the Classroom to keep my certification up to date. One of the requirements of the class is to read 8 books published in the last thirty years, with an eye toward using them in the classroom. I’ve always paired Romeo and Juliet with a book study, using multiple books that connect with the themes of the play in some way. Sad to say, though, my “kid-friendly” reading list is woefully out of date.

So I’m looking for suggestions for YA books—romance, preferably, but outside the genre is fine—that have R & J themes in them. Forbidden love, parental disapproval, family rivalry, different worlds…anything goes!

Part of the unit for the book study is for students to identify how the book is related to R&J, so more tangential connections would make it more of a challenge for them. (And more interesting for me, because reading eight retellings of R & J in a row could get a little old.)

Got any ideas? And what’s the best interpretation of Romeo and Juliet that you’ve seen? Or, do you prefer the original?



General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Cat Marsters says:

    When I studied my A Levels there was an English paper on the differences and comparisons between R&J and Shakespeare In Love.  Tom Stoppard had actually published the script to be used by schools for this.

    Of course, having seen Leo di Caprio as Romeo in the Baz Luhrmann film when I was about 14, it made a HUGE impression on me.  Dudes in tights never had quite the same impact.

    I’m trying to remember a book I read at school that was a YA, futuristic, R&J type setup.  The gimmick was that most people, like the heroine, lived in safe, rich compounds, while the slum dwellers lived dangerous lives, had no access to health or education—and that’s where our hero was from.  When he narrated the book, it was in his uneducated, phonetic style—hard to read at first, but once you adjusted it made a lot of sense.  I think it was called Daz 4 Zoe…will go look it up.

    Yes, it’s by Robert Swindells, and there are even York notes on it.

  2. 2

    I’m not sure if this is YA or middle grades or what, but I remember Avi’s Romeo and Juliet, Together (and Alive!) at Last! fondly from my own childhood.  Less of a Romeo and Juliet retelling, more about kids putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet, with plenty of wacky hijinks.

  3. 3
    Trisha says:

    Off the top of my head:

    Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
    Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper
    Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
    Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
    Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson
    Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors

    I haven’t read Scribbler of Dreams, but I’ve heard it’s good. Of the others, Hawksong is the only one I really recommend (it involves shapeshifters, if you like fantasy), though I will admit that while I don’t think Perfect Chemistry is well-written, I could not put it down. At all.

    For books that are more of a reach, how about LoveSick by Jake Coburn? Guy drives drunks, hurts his leg in an accident, loses his basketball scholarship, gets an offer to spy on a rich guy’s bulimic daughter in exchange for rich guy paying his college tuition. Or If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, one of my favorite YA books even though it makes me cry. (Yes, that’s a warning.) Or…god, I know there are more, why can’t I think of them? Um, Evernight by Claudia Gray, which I didn’t like and includes a plot twist that pissed off a lot of people, but has a totally forbidden romance in it. It’s also the first in a series, if that makes a difference. Oh, and maybe A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti, though it’s more gradual friendship than romance.

    You might want to try From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics by Herz and Gallo on Tuesday. I don’t know if there’s a section on Romeo and Juliet-type stories. Worth a look, though, if you have access to it.

  4. 4
    Trisha says:

    Crap! I deleted half a sentence and didn’t look my comment over before submitting.

    I meant to say that I was looking at From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics by Herz and Gallo on Tuesday for another reason. But, I don’t recall if there’s a section on Romeo and Juliet.

  5. 5
    Meag says:

    I remember in my grade nine class we compared the difference/similarities between Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘West Side Story’ (the book but we did end up watching the musical afterwards). 

    As I remember it, West Side Story didn’t have a happy ending. Only one person dies.  I know they are or did a Broadway revival in 2009.

  6. 6

    If “published in the last 30 years” isn’t a hard-and-fast requirement, I’d suggest The Faraway Lurs by Harry Behn (1963, but there have been more recent editions.) Two Bronze-Age tribes, one a settled agricultural group (the Forest People), the other nomadic hunter-gatherers the Sun People), clash over custom and resources in Northern Europe. The children of the two chiefs meet and fall in love, and, of course, bittersweet tragedy ensues. Lots of direct R&J parallels, including a “Nurse” (the daughter’s slave), poison, etc.

    The inclusion of loads and loads of fascinating information about life in the early Bronze Age might also pique the interest of boys who might otherwise wrinkle their noses at the “girl stuff.” (As the mother of a 15-year-old boy, I sometimes see this attitude.)

    Confirmation word: size57. Uh oh. Time to join C25K.

  7. 7
    Molly-in-Md says:

    The R&J theme isn’t the central one, but what about Holes by Louis Sachar?  The historic B Plot is forbidden love that comes to a bad end (but is central to the modern A Plot).

    Winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal, aimed at 12 and older, kind of funky and thought-provoking. FMI, the book’s entry at Barnes & Noble.

  8. 8
    Jodie says:

    How about Daz 4 Zoey by Robert Swindells? I remember really enjoying it when I was a teenager (but I read it maybe 10 years ago so it may be a little dated).

    I’m sure there are more but I need to think more. The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper is not a retelling of R&J but is a YA story about the real life Juliet Club, where women write letters asking for Juliet’s help.

  9. 9

    The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones has a reworked (i.e. happy ending) version of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets, complete with a pair of lovers (though they’re not the main characters).  It says it’s for ages “12 & Up” so maybe it wouldn’t exactly quality as Young Adult but it does have metafictional elements other than the similarities to Romeo and Juliet (the books that two of the characters read are important, particularly at the start). It’s set in a magic, alternative-reality version of what appears to be a late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century Italian city state, so it’s not very dissimilar to Verona in Romeo and Juliet.

  10. 10
    StephB says:

    Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, is a Romeo & Juliet story, with humor, set in modern farming country.

  11. 11
    kalafudra says:

    Not Romeo and Juliet, but Alan Gratz has the Horatio Wilkes Mysteries which are retellings of Shakespeare plays – Something Rotten is Hamlet and Something Wicked is Macbeth. I’ve only read Something Rotten but I enjoyed it a lot.

  12. 12
    Tina C. says:

    The very first book that came to mind is Summer of My German Soldier.  I loved that book as a pre-teen (late 70’s, early 80’s), so I think that it might just make it into your “last 30 years” requirement. 

    For those who haven’t read it, she’s a young Jewish-American girl from a small town in Arkansas.  He’s a young German soldier who has been captured by the American forces and is held at an interment camp/work farm outside of her town.  He escapes.  She hides him.  It’s all very sad and beautifully written.  Because of the age difference, there isn’t a romance between them, obviously, but there are romantic elements.  Again, I loved loved LOVED this book when I was young and read it several times.

    (Nevermind—I just looked it up and it was published in 1973.  Still, I recommend it as a great read with major Romeo/Juliet elements.)

    old34—Well, no, it was actually published 36 years ago, but that was pretty close!

  13. 13
    LizC says:

    Forbidden love, parental disapproval, family rivalry, different worlds…anything goes!

    I think Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series (A Great & Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) would fit this theme. I don’t know how keen you are on having them read trilogies though but even just the first book would set it up well enough, I think.

    While these books aren’t just romance the idea of love, especially forbidden, is a pretty strong theme throughout the novels. For more than one pairing (I don’t want to give away spoilers though). I would rate the novels as PG-13, though, so keep that in mind.

  14. 14
    Mary says:

    If you want to present a contrasting perspective, try “Julie and Romeo” by Jeanne Ray: the plot parallels R&J, with the delightful exception that the lovers are middle-aged, their families are feuding flower-shop owners (3 generations), and their adult children are entirely opposed to their parents’ romance.  It is not a YA book, but it is absolutely a hoot.

  15. 15
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    This one is from the late Sixtes/earely Seventies (which I still think of as “modern”; does that date me or what?)  It’s also a great book:  Across the Barricades by an author I can’t remember.  It deals with the growing relationship between a Catholic boy and a Protestant girl in Northern Ireland during the height of the “troubles” there and differs from the classic Romeo and Juliet story in that it has a happy ending.  I believe there were also a couple of sequels.  Maybe someone else can recall the author’s name?  I think it was Kate Something.

  16. 16

    Elizabeth, Across the Barricades was written by Joan Lingard. I did a quick Google and came up with this page, which makes the connection with Romeo and Juliet.

  17. 17
    Charlene says:

    Do you have any stories about adult men (yes, adult – there are many clues that Romeo is about 20) tricking thirteen-year-old girls into sleeping with them, then killing themselves when they think they’ll be arrested for her murder? Or about parents who keep their daughters so uninformed and so sheltered that they can’t even recognize an obvious rake, and they end up falling for an obviously fake marriage? Or maybe about the horrors of early arranged marriages and the chance that a girl so matched will rebel and in part cause her own destruction?

    Because those are three of the four main themes of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (as opposed to his source, which is much simpler). The fourth is the idea of star-crossed lovers who can never be together because the Fates intervene.

    It’s unfortunate that every high school and every theatrical production makes this last theme the only one that is discussed, and in doing so make Romeo and Juliet both heroes and – and this is incredibly misleading but so common – both close to the same age. Romeo is a grown man. Juliet is a child who has just gone through puberty.

    Romeo is a far more complex character than is usually recognized. He’s as much of a villain as a hero. His intent is not to marry Juliet but to seduce her. The marriage is obviously fake – Shakespeare made that clear (at least for his contemporaries). Romeo’s wooing was supposed to sound corny and forced and ridiculous – only the passage of time and Shakespeare’s reputation has robbed us of this feeling. He is a tragic figure whose machinations result in his own suicide.

    Not only is it not “just” a love story; it’s not primarily a love story. It’s more about parental failure and the dangers of foreign marriage traditions. Shakespeare was much more subtle with R&J than most credit him for.

  18. 18
    Vicki says:

    Souvenirs by Melissa Snyder ( is a book I reread off and on. It is about a girl dealing with the death of a sib, falling in love, and – wait for it – studying R & J in high school.

    BTW, I am glad that they are now encouraging use of contemporary books. When I was getting my BA in English (74), I got a C in my teaching project because it was all sci-fi and not classics or anything useful.


  19. 19
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Thanks, Laura, the Across the Barricades author is Joan Lingard.  Several Amazon reviewers have made the connection to Romeo and Juliet also, and it sounds as though the book is on a number of school curriculums as well.

    Charlene, yours is a fairly atypical interpretation of the play; I’d be curious to learn what your sources were, as I never encountered that interpretation before, either on stage on in any of my classes.

  20. 20
    HeatherWP says:

    I scanned and didn’t see it, but I think Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles follows the R&J storyline.

  21. 21
    Kate Davies says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions! I’m taking down titles like mad, looking forward to a great spring break read-a-thon. I’m also happy to see two of the books already in the book study (Romeo and Juliet, Together… and Summer of My German Soldier)
    listed as well. Good to know I’ve been on the right track so far!

    Personally, I wish we could choose which Shakespeare play to teach at 9th grade; I’d far rather use Midsummer Night’s Dream and it’s rotating crush theme, or Much Ado About Nothing. But then there still seems to be a bias against teaching classics with happy endings. :)

    word verification: district43—no, I only work for two districts…

  22. 22
    Janet says:

    I hate to say it but having just read the whole Twilight series, I can say with fair authority that New Moon, the second book, has rampant R&J overtones.  So much so that the “Romeo” literally goes to Italy to get himself destroyed when he thinks “Juliet” is dead.  And you can’t get more us against them than vampires v. werewolves.  Is it good, no, not really.  Would I want to use it in a classroom?  Well, I will be teaching an acting class based on the series, so I’m actually hoping to bring in R&J so that I can work with more complex characters and better dialog!

  23. 23
    Julia says:

    I think the Twilight books have a clear Romeo & Juliet theme (in fact the book (2nd one i think) compared itself to the play). There is a ‘forbidden love’ (the whole vamps & human thing), Bella’s dad has a grudge against Edward thru most of the books, and their love borders on obsession (ok, who am I kidding, it is obsession). Since most of my students are themselves obsessed with Twilight, it would prolly work in any classroom.

  24. 24
    Julia says:

    Janet, I think we were both typing out comments at the same time. Great minds think alike, eh?

  25. 25
    hapax says:

    Charlene asked for books about

    horrors of early arranged marriages and the chance that a girl so matched will rebel and in part cause her own destruction?

    and I think that’s a fabulous idea.  How about SHABANU, DAUGHTER OF THE WIND by Suzanne Staples?  A terrific book, and lots of subtle R & J parallels.

    I dunno how old your class is, but for the boys, there’s Burgess’s DOING IT, about three teenaged male friends (very similar to Romeo and his boyz) goading each other into sexual conquests (including the exploitation of one of the trio by an older female teacher), and what happens when one of them falls in love with the “wrong kind” of girl.  It’s very graphic but also qite eye-opeing, and often extremely funny.

  26. 26
    hapax says:

    I wrote

    qite eye-opeing

    which should have been “quite eye-opening.”  Uggh.  And now that I see a grade level, probably not appropriate for 9th graders.  Pity. I can’t think of a good “safe” title that really gets at that adolescent male bonding and obsession about sex that motivates so much of the action in R & J.

  27. 27
    Dagny says:

    I too would love to know some of your sources.  Not because I disagree with you but because it’s so nice to hear this interpretation.  I’ve always hated R&J and when I studied it at age 14 we were assigned to write an essay on the topic of who was ultimately responsible for all the deaths in the play.  I was the only one in my class who said the blame belonged to the two stupid gits in the title.  They let hormones run away with their lives as well as those of family, friends and foes.

  28. 28
    Psyche says:

    In Renaissance Italy, a 20 year old male would not have been considered an adult – he would not have been able to participate in civic life, would have been considered too young to marry, and would have still lived under his father’s roof. In most of Italy, adulthood for males was at age 25. (Of course, the meaning of adult and child were quite different then than they are now – a 20 year old could well have fought in the military or held a job, but so could a 14 year old).

    Second of all, until the Council of Trent in 1545, in Europe neither witnesses nor priests were required for a valid marriage, simply the consent of the two parties (the same was true in England until 1753). So if a man, fully in private, exchanged a marriage vow with a woman, she could hold him to his vow in court (and have good odds of success, especially if she were noble). The laws slowly changed precisely because it was so easy for two young people to elope and marry against their parents’ will, as well as to protect women, not from faked marriages but from forced marriages. (There are many court cases involving a man who kidnaps a woman with a dowry, has sex with her, and then claims afterward that she freely consented to a marriage.)

    False marriages were a common trope of Restoration theater, but when Shakespeare was writing, he was speaking to a debate that was more about too-easy access to marriage, and the ability of ill-considered marriages to upset the body politic. Romeo and Juliet was written in the 1590’s, but there are a number of textual clues (including allusions to Dante and Petrarch, as well as Shakespeare’s source texts) to suggest it was set at least a century earlier, if not more, when Romeo and Juliet’s marriage would have been considered fully legally binding.

    As to the language Romeo uses in his wooing, this is more complex. There’s a clear shift in tone from the clunky pseudo-Petrarchan oxymorons he uses to praise Rosaline (“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”) and the more modern, natural style he uses to woo Juliet. But at the same time, his careful metaphors combined with his too-quick changing of allegiance do suggest what I had always interpreted as a man more in love with love than any particular woman.

  29. 29
    StarOpal says:

    All I can think of is Blood and Chocolate (She’s a werewolf, he’s human [The book not the movie]) and The Silver Kiss (She’s mortal, he’s a vampire) by Annette Curtis Klause.

    I know I’ve read some others, but am seriously blanking at the moment.

  30. 30
    Jennifer says:

    You MUST try Lisa Fiedler – Romeo’s Ex: Rosalind’s Story. YA, gutsy heroine, and didn’t you ever wonder what happened to the poor girl after Romeo sees Juliet and merrily traipses off after her?

    Fiedler has also done a hilarious – and happily-ending – revisioning of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view – Dating Hamlet.

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