By Rebecca Serle
Available now from Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
WHEN YOU WERE MINE wasn't what I was expecting from the summary and reviews. As you probably know, WHEN YOU WERE MINE is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET through the point-of-view of the jilted Rosaline. I had this imagine in my head of a crazy passionate romance between Rosaline and Rob, suddenly interrupted by her sociopathic cousin Juliet. It would then go into thriller territory, with Rosaline trying to save Rob's life. That's not quite how the book goes.
Rosaline and Rob have been best friends forever. When they come back to school as seniors, Rob finally makes a move and asks Rosie out. She's over the moon that they're finally going to go out together. But their first date is surprisingly awkward, aside from a great kiss at the end. Before they can make their relationship official, Juliet moves back to town and the two fall in love fast and hard.
Now, Juliet might have moved on Rob just because he was hot. But something happened between their families years ago, and Rosie hasn't seen her cousin since one disastrous Christmas. Juliet, however, seems to know what caused the split. (Unlike in Shakespeare's play, Rosaline's family is aligned with Rob's rather than Juliet's.) I loved that Juliet wasn't a straight-up crazy, evil character. She's just a teenage girl with an unhappy home life, a need for revenge, and an unexpected passion. Debut author Rebecca Serle gives Juliet moments of true emotion, not allowing Rosie to see her as just a villain.
Serle wisely keeps WHEN YOU WERE MINE from focusing too much on the updated versions of the famous lovers. Their story has been told and she's doing something new. Instead, the book introduces new characters: Rosie's best friends, Charlie and Olivia, and her biology partner Len. Charlie and Olivia contribute to 2012's reputation as a great year for female friendships in YA. Len, meanwhile, is a terrific diversion from the milquetoast Rob. He's a pianist and much smarter and more dedicated than Rosie expected before she started spending time with him. I thought the non-Shakespearean elements of WHEN YOU WERE MINE eclipsed the derivative material.
But really, what makes WHEN YOU WERE MINE a successful book is Rosaline's voice. That's good, considering the book is supposed to be her version of ROMEO AND JULIET. She's a normal high school girl. She's loyal to her friends, worried about college, not as confident in her looks as she should be, a bit preoccupied with popularity, and prone to fits of pique. I liked that she doesn't put up with the way Rob treats her. He throws her over for Juliet, and she doesn't pretend that she's okay with that and they can still be friends. He hurt her feelings and she's not going to let him get close again. She has her moments of weakness, but she doesn't make a fool of herself trying to get him back. Maybe it's just my opinion, but I can't stand stories about girls doing crazy things to reunite with their exes. I'm so happy that isn't what WHEN YOU WERE MINE is about.
WHEN YOU WERE MINE made me cry in the way ROMEO AND JULIET never has. It's a very human retelling of the famous drama, the old story enlivened by the trappings and distractions of high school life. And, of course, it is anchored by a strong voice. Serle has made a terrific debut on the YA scene.