Author: Barbara Dee
Publisher: Aladdin, March, 2017
Themes: family, friendship, 8th grade theater production, crushes, LGBTQIA, Romeo & Juliet
“It wasn’t about me, I knew. But still.”
Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.
As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life. (Goodreads)
Why I like this book:
With a pitch perfect middle grade voice, Dee’s protagonist, Mattie, develops this crush on the British girl who is Paying Juliette in their 8th grade play. I like how she’s confused at first because of a recent crush with a male classmate. Rather than a heavy exploration of coming out as a bisexual, this felt like a very organic description of one sweet girl’s crush within the exploration of friends and family. I enjoyed that Mattie’s older sister and friends are very supportive
The characters are fully realized even the jerky antagonist, Willow because the author makes their motivations logical and visible. Tessa is a well achieved annoying element in the trio of best friends. Which felt authentic. There is a lot of Shakespeare in the story, but I think there is enough humor and lightness to carry it. Middle school readers should appreciate the Shakespearean insults, and I really liked the students’ healthy challenges to the Romeo and Juliette narrative.
Another strength of this book is depiction of different as normal. Mattie half-sister Cara is never referred to as such, and the two sister share a cool relationship (as Mattie does with her two little star-wars obsessed brothers). Divorce is treated as no-big-deal and, Liam’s gayness is just part of who he is.
I read this in a sitting because it is a well-structured story with kind, fun characters and, Mattie’s concerns became mine immediately. The cliques and crushes felt totally middle school, and the bisexuality mainstream. It was refreshing to have a great story arc without excessive drama.