Wednesday, April 17, 2013


(2 different covers)

by Suzanne Harper

Published 2012 by Greenwillow Books (First published June 1, 2008)
GENRE: YA • Urban • Romance • Cutural (Italy) • Teen Life Issues • Intellectual


Kate Sanderson has been burned by love. From now on, she thinks, I will control my own destiny, and I will be reasoned and rational. But life has other things in store for Kate. Namely, a summer abroad studying Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the very town where the star-crossed lovers met, Verona, Italy. Kate is thrown together with two other American teens and three Italians for a special seminar—and for volunteer duty at the Juliet Club, where they answer letters from the lovelorn around the world. Can Kate's cool logic withstand the most romantic summer ever? Especially when faced with the ever-so-charming Giacomo and his entrancing eyes . . . ?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... oh wait.. sorry, wrong author. But it is appropriate for the novel. Young people falling desperately in love... and trying to get that person to even notice them. Sigh. Let's face it. We have ALL been there. Ouch.

This novel really grew on me. It was a bit slow and remote but as the story progressed it really grew tentacles and attached itself to my heart. Hmmm... maybe that is the wrong metaphor. How about it was a dessert I ordered, expecting it to chocolate pie but getting a chocolate cheese cake with ginger mixed in. It was different, and I had to get over my expectations. Once I learned to appreciate it for what it was I really enjoyed it. I kept comparing it to the movie LETTERS TO JULIET, so that didn't help me.

I tend to be a first person POV (Point Of View) lover, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed it. The writing was somewhat remote so it took me a long time to emotionally connect with the characters. Once I did, I was completely entranced. They seemed superficial at first, but that gave way to more complexity (to SOME of the characters) than I gave them credit for. Granted, they didn't get nearly to the level of depth that I wanted, but overall was somewhat satisfactory. The references and quotes from Shakespeare were wonderful and they lent to the overall plot. However, if you are not into "The Bard" or literary-rich passages, you might find your eyes glossing over.

There were a few unexpected surprises and a good dose of wit that bumped it from a three to four rating. I just wish there was more meat to the story and more character development. That only really happened towards the very end of the story.

The fact that they were there on Scholarship was fine. However, the fact that some got there through less than stellar means was not. Plus, Harper never really expounded on that story. It was just touched upon so in the end. I think it would have been better to have cut that line out of the book. All the students were expected to read and respond to letters for help written to Juliet. Great... OK. But naming it after the club that reads the letters was inappropriate. The story reminded me of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, so a spin on that would have been more appropriate. At least use some other reference about Juliet. 

What I find unrealistic is the fact that these students get an all expense paid trip for a month and the head of the program only bothers to show up for the first 5 minutes of class. Sorry, but not happening. She may be flighty and self-absorbed, but she would have to be more involved in the class. In reflection, I was bothered by all the adults portrayed save Grandmother. Again, I want to bang my head in frustration over the lack of time given to the characters, their dialogue and development. 

One other thing that bothered me was at several point she has Kate looking out a window or in a street and the world turns "Disneyland Fairy Tale" before her. They just seemed to be weird speed bumps in the story. 

The ensemble cast just needed to aged more like a fine wine to really make this book sing. Kate's father was an odd, bewildering addition to the cast that disrupted the flow. Giacomo's mother wasn't realistic in her behavior... other than her treatment of her son. Her practical abandonment of him, constantly dumping him off on Grandmother was organic, thoughtful and brutally honest. One of the secondary characters was tragically cursed with the superficial-brainless-ditzy-blond-haired-blued-eyed-southern-chick cliche. You know.. typical Barbie.. but with the twang accent. It was a real shame that the author used such stale typecast personas.

I appreciate how Harper approaches the whole socially awkward teen idea. The fact that she takes so many characters with different personalities and can still make all of them awkward in their own way is delightful. It was a realistic take on how dreadful first teen crushes are. (Shuddering from own personal demonic teen memories.) 

This book was fun, airy and overall delightful. With a richly described Italian backdrop, it is definitely worth reading. It had historically rich lit references mixed with typical airhead teen behavior. How much you enjoy it will depend on what you put more emphasis on. Overall I would say it is a charming summer read that you will be pleased with! ENJOY!