Waking Romeo


Publication Date: 2 Mar. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781760297152

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    YEAR: 2083. LOCATION: LONDON. MISSION: WAKE ROMEO.

    It’s the end of the world. Literally. Time travel is possible, but only forwards. And only a handful of families choose to remain in the ‘now’, living off the scraps that were left behind.

    Among these are eighteen-year-old Juliet and the love of her life, Romeo. But things are far from rosy for Jules. Romeo is in a coma and she’s estranged from her friends and family, dealing with the very real fallout of their wild romance.

    Then a handsome time traveller, Ellis, arrives with an important mission that makes Jules question everything she knows about life and love. Can Jules wake Romeo and rewrite her future?

    A highly original mashup that delights as it disorients ... and asks what would have happened if two great literary love stories were somehow intertwined.

    Information

    Book Type: Senior High
    Age Group: 15 years +
    Traffic Lights: Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 5/5
    Literary Rating: 5/5

    Review

    Time travel has been invented—but the “pods” Travellers use can only go forward in time, not backward. Dissatisfied with the present, the bulk of human civilisation has moved forward in time in search of a better future. What they haven’t accounted for is that the future is built in the present—so as civilisation crumbles, Travellers move further and further into a wasteland of a future and become trapped forever. Juliet Capulet lives in a settlement that refused to Travel. Obsessed with the past, they live on supplies they know will eventually dwindle.

    Jules is a social outcast. At sixteen she married Romeo and, in an effort to escape their controlling parents, they hatched a suicide plot together which left Romeo in a coma and Juliet with a numb left arm. Traumatised and grieving, she spends all her time by Romeo’s bedside writing The Love Story of Juliet and Romeo—a play in the style of Shakespeare.

    In the wasteland at the end of time is an AI who can move people and objects both forward and back in time. The AI, Frogs, pulled Ellis from the 19th century at his time of death. He and the other Deadenders go on missions throughout history to protect the timeline. Ellis’s first name—which he never tells anyone—is Heathcliffe; he was in love with Emily Brontë, who based the character in Wuthering Heights on him. Ellis’s latest mission is to wake Romeo, because he and Juliet have a child together who creates Frogs.

    Ellis and Juliet must work together, jumping forward and backward in time, to wake Romeo from his coma and preserve the timeline.

    They bond over their experiences of oppression as a man of colour and a disabled woman respectively. But their mission grows exponentially more complex as questions are asked and secrets are revealed: who is the man in the WWII costume, and why is he pursuing them? Why did he shoot Ellis? Is there a way to save Ellis’s life? How much did Frogs really know about this mission? Can Juliet and Ellis move past their heartbreak and fall in love? Does Romeo matter at all?

    As the timeline grows more complex, Juliet reveals that she’s already had a child by Romeo—she was pregnant when they tried to commit suicide, though she didn’t know it at the time. She wasn’t just mourning Romeo and their young love, but the baby who didn’t survive. Except of course that he did—he was sent forward in time by Juliet’s mother, and in the future, he is Frogs—a man, not an AI, all along.

    And still, everything they know is turned on its head. Juliet, after waking Romeo, realises that he’s not the man she romanticised him to be and stops living in the past. She leads the settlement into a bright new present, where they farm, create, and work—and eventually founds the Deadenders. The last and most shocking revelation is that Romeo is not the man who raised Frogs with Juliet—Ellis is. Romeo was not the love of Juliet’s life, but he did bring Juliet and Ellis together. Separately and as a team, they bring out the best in one another and their community.

    A great resource for discussing transformative works and intertextuality—most obviously through recontextualising Romeo and Juliet, but also discussion of Wuthering Heights and the other works of Shakespeare. It also works with the play’s original themes in an interesting way—most notably through recontextualising “Fate” as the preservation of a timeline in a very Back to The Future sense.

    It also highlights that the play is a tragedy rather than a love story and takes the position that young love doesn’t have to last forever to be impactful—but healthy relationships based on mutual respect are much more worthwhile. Depicting the Montagues and Capulets in the future, obsessed with our present, throws into sharp relief how toxic and stagnant nostalgia can become. At the same time, the relationship between Juliet and Lady Capulet is given more nuance.

    This is an excellent read. The science-fiction setting, intricate plot, compelling characters, and great message of social responsibility work together to create an intense, unique experience. Racism, ableism, and sexism are discussed in a nuanced and absorbing way.

    The importance of love appears throughout: love for yourself, for your community, for your family. And ultimately, it’s a love story to writing—through Juliet’s creation of Romeo and Juliet, Ellis’s preoccupation with Wuthering Heights, and the way that sharing stories brings them together.

    Themes

    intertextuality, classics, fate, time travel, science fiction, dystopia, romance, relationships, racism, ableism, sexism, secrets, writing, stories, trauma, grief, family

    Content Notes

    1. Language: shit/shite x 45, bastard x 2, dick x 1.  2. “Nobody worships God anymore, we just worship the past” (p. 64). 3. Death and Suicide: Mention of Romeo and Juliet’s suicide as in the original play—does not occur on the page (p. 42, 49, 69, 110, 164, 291, 312). Mention of the suicide of Juliet’s grandparents, an example of the people who “found other ways of escaping the now”, sometimes leaving others behind to deal with grief (p. 159, 257). Death and body horror—Travellers who jump forwards in time to spaces already occupied by other matter meld with existing matter, and die horribly; their remains appear on the page (p. 6-7, 104-105). The (past) death of Tybalt (discussed p. 24, mentioned throughout). Death of Ellis (depicted p. 92, via gunshot—he is revived, but this is not clear until later). Death of Juliet’s child by Romeo, “Frogs”, (discussed p. 273—he doesn’t die, but Juliet doesn’t know this until later). 4. Substances: Mention of drug overdose —in reference to Juliet and Romeo’s suicide pact (p. 42). Mention of underage drinking —Romeo, and others at the party where he and Juliet got together (p. 107, 118, 234-235, 350). Mention of Romeo’s drug use (p. 135). Depiction of drug use—Claude Montague squirts something in his eye, and later drinks the same droplets (p. 150).5. Sexual references: Mention that Romeo and Juliet had sex —as in the original play, however they are both over 16 in the novel (p. 52, 66, 167). Allusions to sex (p. 171 —Juliet asks if Ellis’s involvement with Emily Bronté was a one-night stand, it was not; p. 181 “it was between my legs”).6. Racism: Ellis mentions on several occasions being racially oppressed (p. 110, 111, 163). Mr Bronte beats Ellis to stop him from entering an interracial relationship with Emily (p. 111).

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