Author: Rebecca Serle (author website | blog)
Release Date: April 2012 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
It's no secret the greatest love story ever told is no love story. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy—a tale of bigotry, and murder; a story about a thirteen year old girl and a fickle, capricious boy, ending in suicide and tragedy for all. But what if it was wrong? Or not the whole story? Turns out… it’s every inch as heartbreaking, and if Rebecca Serle does one thing magnificently, it’s laying on the heartbreak. Grab your tissues and your comfort food, and prepare to fall in love... You know what comes next.
What if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one?
Rosaline has been best friends with Rob since they were little kids. Recently, something deeper and more electric has entered their friendship, and when Rob returns after the summer break and asks Rosaline on a sort-of date, it seems they are destined to become a couple, just as Rosaline always knew they would be. The next day at school, a mysterious, beautiful girl arrives: Rosaline's long-lost cousin, Juliet. And suddenly it looks as if Rosaline might be about to lose her best friend AND her new boyfriend...
The Story:Rosaline Caplet's final year in school should be perfect. And it is, for a time. When her best friend and next door neighbor, Rob Monteg returns from Summer break, things start to change between them. Despite reluctance to damage a cherished friendship, Rose follows her heart, and, when the two kiss, the stars align. Or so Rose thought. The next day, Rose's more or less estranged cousin, Juliet Caplet returns to town, and the day after that, Rob's love, his lips, even his friendship aren't Rose's anymore, no. They belong to Juliet. Because for Rob and Juliet, it was love at first sight, and like those star-crossed lovers with such similar names, so many years ago, it can't end well. As Rose struggles with her shattered heart, people start whispering of Juliet's instability. Will she take Rob with her when she falls? And will Rose get her own happily ever after?
My Thoughts:Going into an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is challenging. Knowing the story can only end poorly, it’s difficult to let go of a certain reticence to become fully engaged. Yet it quickly becomes difficult to keep When You Were Mine from getting under your skin. With a charm uniquely its own, warm, vivid characters and sweet first love, it all comes together, feeling so, so right... Before it all goes so, so wrong.
Here's where, enter, stage left, comes our heroine, Rosaline Caplet. Sweet, quiet, and, well, ordinary. Rose is the perfect girl next door to Rob Caplet's Romeo. She has a simple kind of strength of character that shines through ‘ordinary’, making her engaging and easy to like. It's from Rose's outside point of view we watch her first love and best friend fall for another girl, and it's Rose who brings the tragedy home. Because it's not just the pain of two young, promising lives derailing so swiftly and violently. It's what comes before and what's left behind, and Rose feels it all with heart-wrenching intensity.
As I followed fair Rosaline’s journey, I longed for it to change, for Rose to curse the inauspicious stars, to fight their pull, and to choose her own adventure; to make things right in the world and to prove that fate isn’t sealed in the cold, cruel lights in the sky, It’s hard to trust the very wise Ms Serle when she says “No love story ends or begins out of accordance with how it needs to go,” but it’s well worth the risk. This is a book designed to make you feel, and oh, does it succeed. From the depths of grief and despair, to the soaring heights of creeping, hateful hope, Serle plays the heart strings with graceful perfection.
From the sweet, giddy breathlessness of first kisses, to the depths of despair, Serle doles out heartache, heartbreak, and emotional intensity with a calm, measured efficiency. And it's the emotional impact of When You Were Mine that is its greatest strength. Even in its darkest moments, Serle reminds us there is always light in the darkness. Whether the incandescent warmth of true friendship, the love of family, or the pinpricks of light in the night sky, the sadness in When You Were Mine is always tempered with something more: with hope, with friendship, with the spark of something new and exciting, after the loss of something old and precious.
With the stage is set, the players enter, and events are set in motion. The show goes on. And it’s this relentless march towards the inevitable that lends When You Were Mine such poignant tragedy: the simple knowledge that a few small choices would provide such a vastly different fate for our star-crossed lovers. But this is the question: choice, or fate? Serle examines fate, destiny, and choice, and lets the reader have the final say, lets them choose. It is not a story of blacks and whites, but one of greys and shadow; of loss, of endings, and of new beginnings.
It’s worth noting When You Were Mine’s slow, steady start, but certainly not as a criticism. Though Serle does have a tendency to overload, at times, on what could seem insignificant details, it comes to feel measured, deliberate. Serle takes her time presenting her players. She lets them fall in love; lets the reader fall in love with them, all before tearing them apart and setting her tragedy in motion.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Romeo & Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3.
The Verdict:When You Were Mine is not quite the love story, or the tragedy, you remember. Once again, in a cruel play of fate and synchronicity, the stars align in exactly the wrong way to cause catastrophe. A string of small coincidences, combined to cause something profound. Once again, politics come into play, and lives are destroyed, and ultimately, all are punished.
When You Were Mine isn’t quite Romeo and Juliet, but truly, it is not exactly aiming to be. It is not Romeo's, nor Juliet's story, it's Rosaline's. It's about the girl left behind, forgotten, and learning to live with heartbreak. It’s a retelling, and a reimagining: something slightly different, and, in its own way, something more. It's not entirely a tragedy, and despite its heavy subject, avoids being bleak. It's tempered with something more: hope. It’s not precisely the same love story you know, but if you have one, it will break your heart.