by Stacey Jay
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
I have to say, I'd heard a little bit about this re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet story, and thought it might read a bit more like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Instead, it was nothing like that. I was pleasantly surprised by the reinterpretation of this story. In this version, Romeo and Juliet are traveling through time - inhabiting the bodies of star-crossed lovers who've had near-death experiences. In each incarnation, Juliet, who is working for the Ambassadors (presumably the good guys) has a limited amount of time to get the couple back together again. Romeo, who sacrificed Juliet (and in some ways, himself) to the Mercenaries in exchange for eternal life, catches up with her, possessing a newly dead body each time, and tries to foil her plans.
This go around, Juliet finds herself in the body of Ariel Dragland, a shy blonde teenager in the small California town of Solvang. After a reckless driving accident, Romeo is in possession of the body of Dylan, the school bully and sometime crush of Ariel's. There are a few hints that are dropped that all is not right - Juliet/Ariel has never seen Romeo track her down so quickly before. She's noticed that the gaps between each mission are growing shorter and shorter. Nurse, her Ambassador handler, has gone missing. She's beginning to wonder if the Ambassadors have her well-being at heart after all.
As Ariel, she's landed in the middle of a tricky situation. Ariel's been recovering from severe burns she received as a child. Years of surgery have restored her looks, but not her confidence, as she copes with a strained relationship with her single mom, and an overbearing best friend, Gemma. I had trouble visualizing Ariel's ugly/pretty look - she's supposed to be a former burn victim, but she's also supposed to have an elfin, delicate beauty, with scars that only add to her unique look. Juliet explains that once she's inhabiting someone's body, she picks up their language, memory and abilities, and she's pleased that she and Ariel share a "soul gift" - both are talented artists. I liked the kind of maturity and distance that Juliet brings to the situation. When Ariel is in a fight with her mom, Juliet decides to let some matters drop, instead of escalating the situation. They end up having a heart-to-heart talk that is very healing for them both. Juliet is very conscious of wanting to leave her host's relationships better than when she found them, which made me wonder how and what her former hosts remember after she leaves them and returns to the void she inhibits while waiting to be pulled to Earth again. The last thing Juliet expects is to be slammed with "love at first sight" feelings for sensitive and kind Latino transfer student Ben. Unfortunately, she feels duty-bound to stick to her mission and try to fix him up with Gemma, who is glowing with the aura of true love. Juliet also has to avoid Romeo/Dylan's attempts to kill her - he truly comes across as a psychopath, coming up with whatever threats and lies that cross his mind just to try to distress her. Ben, on the other hand, is a total fantasy - no high school boy in the world has ever been so kind and virtuous and good. He instantly falls head-over-heels for Ariel/Juliet and within a few days is already talking marriage.
I was curious if readers not familiar with Solvang, CA would get the references to Danish windmills, tourists, and of course, easy access to wine country, with most high school students finding it easy to host bootleg wine parties.
Wow, the ending! I had a few of my own favorite pet theories brewing, and I sure didn't see that ending coming. I had been hoping that Juliet would realize that she'd been a dolt - that every time she'd been deposited into someone else's life mid-stream, it was actually a chance for her to grab a chance at happiness and realize there is no such thing as a "one true love" pre-destined by fate. I was shocked by the revelation of Gemma's relationship with a teacher, and more shocked by the Ambassadors cold admission that they were going to somehow use the psychic power of the relationship, which suits them just fine. The actual ending felt like a bit of a muddle to me, with time traveling, alternate realities, awful fates for most of our modern day characters (if we find out what happens to them at all!) and Romeo getting the last word. Normally, I'm not one to recommend a book with such a let-down of an ending, but it was still such an enjoyable read - brace yourself for the oddness at the end (perhaps it will all be addressed in a sequel??) and you will enjoy it. I really liked the characters of Juliet/Ariel and Ben, they made the book worthwhile for me.
I borrowed this book from the library.