Review Blog

Jul 04 2012

When you were mine by Rebecca Serle

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Simon and Schuster, London, 2012. ISBN 9780857075161.
This book is meant to refocus our perception of the love story of Romeo and Juliet: as the cover suggests, what if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one? However, the story itself doesn't quite live up to the expectations of the blurb.
It is certainly a clever idea to focus the story on Rosaline, the girl Romeo claims to adore at the beginning of Shakespeare's play, the girl he forgets immediately he meets Juliet. Serle has also kept the structure of a play: with Acts and Scenes and even a Prologue and Epilogue. However, due to the relocation of the action to a Californian high school, Serle's story feels more like a west coast Gossip Girl, with the kind of heartbreak wrought from bitchy behaviour - not from everlasting love.
The reason Romeo and Juliet is considered to be such a great love story is the tragic irony of their situation; the fact that these young lovers are kept asunder by a family feud. But this dramatic tension is missing from the novel; there is indeed a family feud but it is between Rosaline's dad and Juliet's father, so does not immediately impinge on the young lovers. Rob (Serle's Romeo) doesn't even know about his family's link to the feud till very late in the story.
Serle's Juliet is manipulative and deliberately cruel, seeking revenge on Rosaline for the sins of the fathers. In her effort to make Rosaline's story seem more powerful, Serle has simply weakened the original sense of passionate love between Romeo and Juliet and thus weakened her own endeavours. Rosaline's story, as told by Rebecca Serle, is nothing more than jilted first love and falling for the wrong guy. So instead of vying for the role of 'the greatest love story' - it is really nothing more than Mills and Boon on campus!
Readers who simply want a love story with plenty of heartbreak and a happy ending will be satisfied with this novel. But those who want to view the Shakespearean tragedy with fresh eyes are likely to be disappointed.
Deborah Marshall

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