Waking Romeo by Kathryn Barker
Wow! I am still thinking about this complex and unusual novel days after I finished reading it. It raises questions about the meaning of true love, all tied up with people using time travel pods to escape the dying world that they have created. Juliet Capulet lives in the now with a group of families who have chosen not to go to the future in search of a better life, but things are traumatic for her. Her love Romeo is in a coma and she has been ostracised by friends and family. When Ellis arrives from the future with a quest to wake Romeo, Jules begins to question her beliefs about love and starts to change her life.
Told from the points of view of Jules and Ellis and in five acts, the narrative jumps back and forwards in time, starting in 2083, flipping back to 2056 and concluding in 2107. The feelings that Jules has for Romeo are intense, and the reader will recognise much of Shakespeare's dialogue from Romeo and Juliet. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that Jules was not Romeo's girlfriend for very long and the author subtly questions Shakespeare's version of true love in comparison to real life. Ellis' connection to the book Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is slower to appear and more subtle.
While the theme of true love dominates, the concept of time travelling to the future to avoid the mistakes made in the present is a fascinating one, and Barker questions whether the future would be any better if mistakes are not rectified. The effects of climate change are vividly described in the dystopian London that Jules lives in.
There are some surprises for the reader in the clever plot twists and some tense moments when a stranger in a gas mask shoots at the pair. However, all is explained in a most satisfactory way in the end.
This would make a challenging group discussion book or class text. Extensive teacher's notes are available, as well as a video with the author discussing the book, and another video with a special message to teachers and librarians are available on the publisher's website.
Themes: Time travel, True love, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, Destiny, fate, Sustainability, Climate change.