Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Romeo and Juliet Code

First off, I have an important announcement. My inaugural post for Project Mayhem is today. Please, if you have a moment during your Marvelous Monday Meanderings, I would love it if you would pop over there to say "hi!"

And, with that out of the way, let's turn to the book of the moment, Phoebe Stone's The Romeo and Juliet Code (Scholastic/Levine 2011)
Unless you have just spent the last week and a half homesteading under a rock, you probably have heard me trumpeting about being a first round judge of the Cybils. So far, 104 realistic middle grade novels have been nominated (there's a separate category for fantasy/sci-fi) and so I and my fellow panelists have been wearing out our eyeballs reading.

One of my faves in the vast tide is The Romeo and Juliet Code. Here are the opening lines: "I was always told that my dad, Danny, loved danger. I was told that he was a bit reckless and daring. And that's just the way he pulled the car up into the sandy driveway at my grandmother's house in Maine. We could see the ocean below us crashing and pounding against the jagged rocks. Danny seemed to put the brakes on just at the edge of the cliff."

It's a great opening for a book that is about "being at the edge of a cliff." Set in 1941, the United States is just months from being sucked into the world war. The narrator, 11-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig, is being brought from England (her mother, Winnie, is English) to escape war-torn London. Her relatives, the eccentric Bathburn clan, have all sorts of secrets and mysteries and that is what drives the book's engine. Why is Uncle Gideon so angry at his brother Danny? Who is the mysterious Captain Derek, and why is his room off-limits in the Bathburn house. There's a strong steak of The Secret Garden in all this, and Flissy (as her grandmother nicknames her) becomes something of an expert in Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I couldn't put this book down. (As an English expat, I'm a sucker for books dealing with an English person's experience in the U.S.) Flissy is given to much generalization about the British ("British children on the whole never hide or snitch or lie...) And there is also a code that has to do with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (and I love my Shakespeare.)

My only question really is whether this book, beloved by me, would be popular with today's American teen, for whom 1941 might as well be 1541. I think the publisher must have had similar qualms, because the cover is misleading in its modernity (pink and black Converse in the 1940s? And, heavens forfend, Flissy is not the kind of girl to wear sneakers.) Nevertheless, if you have a reader who loves a good mystery, I would definitely give it a try.

I'm looking forward to reading other MMGMer's reviews. You can find their blogs on my sidebar!

14 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think it'll depend on the teen whether they'd like a book of this era. I don't love historical fiction myself that much but find I enjoy it when I actually read one. This one I'm sure is good because the Arthur Levine imprint is publishing it. Thanks for sharing about it.

Myrna Foster said...

I'm hooked already, wanting to know why Uncle Gideon is angry with her father, but I'm not today's teenager. Thanks for the recommendation!

Barbara Watson said...

My kids and I love historical fiction (and for me, it's really a way to study history because I don't enjoy history as a subject itself). I was surprised, after seeing the cover, that this is historical. Interesting.

Joanne Fritz said...

Cover choices are often a mystery, aren't they? I wouldn't have pegged this as set in 1941 by looking at the cover! But I love your review and the metaphor of being at the edge of a cliff. I also love Maine, so any book set in Maine would get my vote!

Congrats to you on voting for the Cybils! Such an honor. And I'll try to get to Project Mayhem later this evening.

Jennifer Rumberger said...

Loved the review. Definitely sounds like an interesting book to read. I agree, too, though that the cover doesn't give the impression of a historical fiction book.

Jemi Fraser said...

I haven't read this one yet, but it sounds fabulous! Thanks for the tip :)

bfav said...

Yeah, I wouldn't have guessed 1940's from the cover but I shakespeare and historical. Can't wait to check this out.

Kristen said...

What is it with everyone today? Some beautiful descriptions in the blog posts--so well written!
I really appreciate your comments about the cover.

Kristen said...

Well, I mean yesterday. I took the day off but you get my drift.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Where do you find all these great MG stories?! It must be your mob connections! :-)

Pam Torres said...

This one sounds incredible. I love historic fiction. Great review!!

Deb A. Marshall said...

Thanks for sharing this, Michael! Will for sure get and read.

salarsenッ said...

I love that opening! The story sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing it. I just found you via Shannon O'Donnell. Nice to meet you.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Hopping over from Shannon's blog - but of course I already follow you! And I'm hoping there will be more science-y MG books in the Cybils this year (*crosses fingers*)!