Gentle reader, I wish to spare you my suffering. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury this book, not to praise it. When You Were Mine
is awful. It is not simply awful it is bitter, stupid, sexist, and above all a lie.
Actually, no. The worst part really is how grossly sexist and simplified it is. The author says she had her own heartbreak and "turned the experience into this book," which shows because Rose's bitterness is very authentic. There are times, brief and fleeting, where I could see the strain and want to sympathize with her.
Then we get to parts where the narration has Juliet admitting she stole everything from Rosaline out of pure jealousy, where Romeo--I mean, Rob--comes to her doorstep pleading that he's always loved her, but she turns him away because she now has a better, more sensitive and endlessly patient boyfriend? That is a pure revenge fantasy of a scorned lover. And I would enjoy reading a character coping with such a thing if the whole book didn't feel like it was justifying it and wallowing in it with its every paragraph. But others have better explained the pitfalls and failures in that sphere and I would recommend reading their reviews if mine leaves you unconvinced.
What I am offended about is that it is also
a lie. Because the hook, the catch, this book's raison d'être
is that this is Rosaline's untold story that was overshadowed by the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. And this, gentle reader, has nothing in common with Romeo and Juliet
. And I don't mean it's not by switching locals from fair Verona to Southern California, mixing up the ages, or switching Romeo to Rob, and Montague to Monteg and Capulet to Caplet, I mean nobody has any resemblance at all to the play. Not even a pale attempt.
Rosaline had no lines in the original, so this would be perfect to craft a whole and unique voice, to recreate a character whose circumstances can cast the events of the play in a new light.
But she doesn't even try this tactic. Juliet, instead of a naive young girl, is a bitter overdramatic "slut" (oh yes, they use this word a lot) who makes Regina George from "Mean Girls" look positively endearing. She's crazy, she's emotionally manipulative such as threatening suicide if Rob breaks up with her, and she goes out of her way to be nasty to Rosaline for the perceived slight back when they were seven
. Rob was always a well-mannered and level-headed boy, not prone to flightiness and expected to go to Stanford, until Juliet shows up. Then he becomes vicious and picks fights with people in jealous fits of rage. And instead of being completely fixated with Juliet he harbors feelings for Rosaline that crop up every so often when he's not being a massive jerkoff.
The tragedy of their families, instead of a longstanding blood feud that has been going on so long that nobody remembers what it's about, has been given a reason that is as recent as Rob's mom having an affair with Juliet's dad
. This is so dumb because Rob spends most of the novel being in the dark about the feud's reasons. Juliet spends most of the book spiting Rosaline for the feud because her family apparently sided with the Montegs over hers, so she takes that as a reason to make Rosaline's life miserable and take everything away from her (okay, really, I have to recomment how sexist this is because you can't take
a guy, he has the ability to choose!).
Oh and their tragic deaths, instead of being so in love (or at least so hormonally obsessed) with each other that their botched elopement ends in a lover's suicide, this ends with a drunk driving incident over the cliff. With plenty of suggestions that Juliet forced them to crash. This senseless death doesn't bring closure to the families or peace to their city. It's really just a last moment for Rosaline to feel slightly guilty and then shrug it off for her new love interest.
Honestly? I don't mind co-opting classics or subverting Shakespeare. He's not a sacred cow. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
is not even my favorite of his plays. I don't pretend it's a love story. It's kids, and they're stupid and reckless, but they're also sympathetic because they become aware that the feud is terrible (we see this because the first scene isn't them being so in love, it's how the feud permeates to even the unrelated servants). Their infatuation is what leads them to realizing how messed up things are and that's the universal feeling Shakespeare capitalized on, a passion being denied by hatred and circumstances they cannot fully change.
Serle didn't care about that. The tragedy is never truly there, it only serves as a tie-in to her novel because who would want to read something described as "scorned girl's burn book detailing the circumstances of her asshole ex-boyfriend and the crazy bitch who stole him away from her." A lot of people, possibly. But that's not the story she hitched her wagon to.
And when you misuse Shakespeare to deliver something as terrible as When You Were Mine