Published: 26th Arpil 2012
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Recommended Reading Age: 16+
What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: Everything. Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy…and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance. Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends….
When I first heard about this book I was quite intrigued with the idea of telling the story of Romeo and Juliet from Rosaline’s point of view. The girl before the girl. So I was a little disappointed when I started reading and realised that this was actually a contemporary novel, based on the famous play.
For one thing, the little we know of the original Rosaline was that she rejected Romeo (I’ve always doubted she was the first girl Romeo had proclaimed his undying love to) and Romeo laments her rejection. He isn’t too happy about the fact that she’s taken a vow of chastity either.
Serle’s Rosaline is in love with Romeo, or Rob, in this case, and when he finally asks her out, she believes it is the beginning of an epic love. Of course, as we all know, Rob’s attentions aren’t destined to last long and soon enough, poor Rosaline is dealing with a broken heart and a few painful home truths.
If I’m honest by page 109 I was seriously considering abandoning this. The main characters were silly, shallow and pretentious and the first half of the book is incredibly tedious, consisting of Rosaline’s (rather self-deprecating) monologue about her typical high school day, how generally superior her and her friends are, how much of a ‘disease’ a boy called Len is, how unfair life is and either daydreaming about Rob or over-analysing every thing he says. However, the book definitely improves during Act Three and I will admit to quite enjoying the second half of the story. The main reason for this is because of the growing romance between Rosaline and Len, resulting in some far more interesting scenes than we ever see between her and her supposed ‘true love’.
The original Romeo and Juliet were foolish and naive, but ultimately, endearing. Choosing to depict the story in this way, with Rosaline heartbroken over Rob, Serle fundamentally alters the characters as we know them. Rob is an altogether less sympathetic hero, in fact, he’s a jerk, who treats his life-long friend in the worst possible way. By default, Juliet becomes a ‘boyfriend stealer’, a ‘slut’, and later on, a hysterical, potentially suicidal, slut at that. This just wasn’t a message I was comfortable with. I detest slut shaming, both in fiction and real life, and while I wouldn’t say it is overly emphasised in the book, it is there and I don’t feel the author took the time to properly explore the issue, other than Rosaline’s half-hearted attempt to befriend Juliet near the end. Why is Juliet blamed for everything? Why does no one take issue with the fact that Rob becomes more and more unstable and screams at her in very threatening way in public? Why are there rumors that she is suicidal? Why does everyone blame her for their deaths?
Another problem with this interpretation of the characters, is that when tragedy strikes, it has far less impact of the reader than it perhaps should have done. Rob’s character is never fully developed beyond his (appalling) treatment of Rosaline and Juliet, and Juliet’s death almost feels like a footnote. We get some glimpses into the Rob Rosaline knew and loved as she grieves, and there were some quite strong scenes that brought home the pain of loosing such a close friend so suddenly, and I only wish these had been expanded on.
There were several things I quite liked about this book. I grew to like the friendship between the three main girls, the support and genuine love they show each other, even if I didn’t much like the characters themselves. I liked Serle’s message about choice. I really liked the hints of romance between Len and Rosaline. But so much more was mediocre. In the end, When You Were Mine is a bit hit and miss and takes too long time to get into its stride. A light teenage romance that disappointingly, for an older reader, brushes over some of the darker, more complex plot lines the story presented.