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When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

When You Were Mine came and went across my radar after I took a brief glance at its cover and mentally relegated it to the Jennifer Echols realm of contemporary YA romance. I enjoyed Going Too Far, but haven't loved her others or found myself in the mood for more of the same since. But that judgement was admittedly based entirely on the cover, font, tagline, etc. Then I read Carla's review over at The Crooked Shelf, and I took a second gander. Shakespeare, you say? Retelling? This is all exceedingly promising. Oh. Romeo and Juliet? Hm. Not sure I want to go there. Not that I don't enjoy R&J (I once saw it on stage, and Romeo's death scene was positively EPIC in scope. My brother-in-law and I were crying tears of mirth long before the poor boy let loose his final gasp and put us all out of our misery). And, as is so often the case, I was powerless to resist the call of a possibly excellent retelling. It was when I realized that it was told from Rosaline's point of view that the deal was sealed.

Rose Caplet is keeping her hopes on a very tight leash. Her best friend Rob has been gone all summer, but he's coming home today and Rose is trying pretty hard to keep it all together. They shared that one kiss, that one extended glance. That's all. And despite her best friends' insistence that the very first thing he'll do now he's back in town is declare his undying love for her, Rose is not so sure. They've always been friends. Rob helped her learn to ride a bike. He taught her how to swim. He knew her way back when. Even if he did have the kind of feelings for her that she seems to be developing for him, wouldn't it rock the boat of their friendship too much to be worth it? But then he is back. And he asks her out on a real date. And things are heading in a most promising direction. Until Rose's cousin Juliet comes to town. Rose hasn't had any contact with Juliet in years, though the two used to be close as kids. Now Juliet's back and trouncing all over Rose's life in her designer flip flops. But it's when she sets her sights on Rob that Rose really begins to worry. What is happening here? Why does her cousin seem to have it out for her? Surely Rob won't respond to Juliet's advances. Not after confessing his affections for Rose. Rob wouldn't do that. Would he?

I'll admit, it took me 100 pages to get into this one. I teetered on the verge of putting it down and moving on. But then I hit the following passage (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Charlie puts her arm over my shoulder. Olivia stands on the other side, arms crossed, Ben behind her. They're flanking me, like human pieces of armor.

Rob can't see me from this angle, which is worse than if he could, because it means I can stare as hard and as long as I like. He whispers something to her, and she laughs, then brings her finger to her lips to tell him to be quiet. But it's in that cute way certain girls have that lets everyone know they don't really mean it. That she wants him to go on bothering her forever. Even while turning him down she's inviting him. Forget the lip biting. This is definitely her power move.

He's leaning so close to her that it takes everything in me not to run right over and tear them apart. And part of me wants to. Part of me wants to fight. To tell him to pick me. To beg him to stop what he's doing, erase the last three days, and just come back. But I'm already fading into the background, like a house in the rearview mirror. I can feel myself getting smaller and smaller, shrinking, so that when Mr. Johnson says, "Have a great day, everyone!" I think I might have just disappeared.
And that's all it took. From that sentence on, it was all systems go for me. Because that is exactly what happens in the play. Rosaline--the object of all of Romeo's formidable passion and desire--just . . . disappears . . . when Juliet comes on stage. And when this Rosaline experiences that precise moment, it called to the forefront of my mind every ounce of sympathy I had for her and for the singular horror of being overlooked, of being left behind in the wake of fickle infatuation. All these years I assumed Rosaline never gave Romeo a second thought. But what if she did? What if the loss of his love hurt like a brand pressed to her skin? The rest of the story following this moment has its share of ups and downs. I never completely warmed to Rose's flock of privileged, preening friends. There were hints at more depth than was shown, but I could have done with some actual exploration of those hints, especially when it came to Charlie and Olivia. I've heard that some readers felt the inevitable tragedy that comes lacked weight, but I actually thought it was incredibly thoughtfully done. I grieved with Rose. For the years wasted in enmity between the two families, for the deception between the generations, and for the senseless loss of two teenagers whose greatest sin was letting go of their senses so wildly, of losing sight of themselves in the name of each other. Because if I didn't love this Rob and Juliet as much as I did the originals, I loved Rose more. And her love and compassion for them (despite what they did to her) overshadowed any bitterness I might have harbored. All of this is helped, of course, by the fact that Rebecca Serle chose to give Rose another love interest who I admired wholeheartedly. I would have liked a bit more in the way of development in this arena as well, more than I got by the time the ending rolled around. As it was, the ending lacked the kind of weight I felt it needed in order to serve as a proper epilogue to the tragic events that preceded it. It felt a bit pat, a bit cute, when I wanted it to mean more. A contemporary retelling of this play is always going to run that particular risk, but given the excellence of Rose's point of view and the truly elegant moments Ms. Serle was able to craft, I was really pulling for a perfect end for When You Were Mine. An enjoyable, if uneven read, recommended for its interesting perspective and moments of insight.

When You Were Mine is due out May 1st.

Linkage
The Crooked Shelf review
MarjoleinBookBlog review
Midnight Book Girl review
So Many Books, So Little Time review
Turn the Page review

Comments

  1. I've been incredibly curious about this book--and now I"m even more so. I'll definitely be checking it out.

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    Replies
    1. Sarah, it is worth it, I think. Rose has stuck in my mind since finishing it.

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  2. Thanks for reviewing this one, Angie. It looks pretty interesting. I like that it's told from Rosaline's point of view.

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    Replies
    1. Chach, my pleasure. The choice to tell it from Rosaline's POV is what truly makes it.

      Delete
  3. Oh yes. This one looks very interesting. I must confess some serious weakness for R&J stories. And even better that it's told from Rosaline's POV.

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    Replies
    1. I hear ya, Michelle. Clearly I had no defenses against the lure of this one!

      Delete
  4. Hmmm, I don't like the sound of uneven. But that quote you posted is killer. I'm about 30 pages into When You Were Mine and not exactly LOVING it, per se, but hopefully everything clicks 100 pages in.

    As always, your review has me green with envy at your way with words.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I'm starting to think I have a problem with endings. I don't know. But I kept thinking about the characters after. And there are some truly lovely passages, along with the beginnings of a very sweet romance.

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