Title: When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle
Published: Published May 1st 2012 by Simon Pulse
Group age: Young adult
Genre: Contemporary retelling
Grade rate: C-
Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. She’s been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her - and when he finally does, it’s perfect. Then Juliet arrives on the scene.
This is not how the story was supposed to go. When rumours start swirling about Juliet’s instability - her neediness, a her threats of suicide - Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life.
I really wanted to love this book. I adore Shakespeare retellings (and of course the originals themselves) and I know a lot of people who fell for When You Were Mine hook, line and sinker, but it just didn’t work out for me. I enjoyed some parts of the book, but there were just too many major errors to ignore.
Initially, I was positively electrified by the idea of the famous story being retold from Rosaline's point of view. Poor Rose doesn't get much mention in the original, but my oh my, this version is all hers. Her voice is totally unique - at least at first. As times goes on and events unfold, however, the once captivating and feisty Rose becomes a veritable waterfall of complaints about how miserable she is, how much she hates characters she used to love (for no real reason at all), and what a pain it is to be beautiful, popular and basically perfect.
Of course, it's understandable that Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet, who used to be her best friend but has become vindictive and hateful in the years since they last saw each other. There's plenty of backstory to justify this, but sometimes I just didn't buy it.
Rebecca Serle's Rob is no Leonardo DiCaprio, and she just doesn't manage to get away with this convoluted (if mildly entertaining) take on the classic. 'Rob' stops being a loveable male lead to a deranged lunatic in a matter of chapters, but Serle insists on describing him as the utter hero until the very last agonising pages. (Unlike Shakespeare's Romeo - we all knew he was crazy from the start!) Maybe if Serle spent less time focusing on how catty Rose thought Juliet was, she might have been able to create a deep, complex and interesting set of characters instead.
The plot isn't exactly stellar, either. Romeo and Juliet is an emotional rollercoaster, and yes, we've probably all said it's unrealistic at one point or another, but this book takes things to a whole other level. The standard of modern YA is so high and this book completely fell below par. The writing was fine, but that in itself speaks volumes – no one should have to put up with an ‘average’ YA book these days. Writers need to push themselves to write with depth and originality, but Serle lacks enthusiasm in this respect. She only portrays the sides of characters she wants to see; there’s no consideration for a reader who wants a romantic but well-balanced story. I kept hoping for something really memorable to happen, but even the climax was a let-down. It's hard to explain because there were some bits I genuinely liked, but the overall direction the story took just wasn't to my taste.
Rosaline is made into a victim, lacking impulse and decisiveness; Juliet is stigmatised, leaving her character barely fleshed out; and in an unsurprising fashion, Rob is treated is alternately as a god and then as some kind of precious but led-astray boy who just needs saving. In all honesty, I wasn't surprised to learn the author wrote this book to get back at a cheating ex.
I wish I could give this book a better review, but in truth it's a story that forgets there's a difference between original material and original ideas, and it let me down.