Ronit & Jamil
by Pamela L. Laskin
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 192 pages. Young Adult
A Romeo & Juliet retelling set in present-day Israel and Gaza, this novel in verse tells the forbidden romance of Ronit, an Israeli girl, and Jamil, a Palestinian boy. Separated by barriers of culture, political conflict, violence -and a 440 mile long, 11 miles wide concrete blockade - these unlikely lovers cross paths when they accompany their fathers to work at a medical clinic. Despite all that stands between them, Ronit and Jamil's love grows, and so do the risks. Can love transcend generations of war and pain? What sacrifices will their love demand?
I'm a fan of novels written in verse and Shakespeare, so I was expecting quite a lot from this book. My favorite part of this Romeo & Juliet retelling is the setting; placing the story in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ramps up the tension and the danger. There's nothing trivial about Ronit and Jamil's situation; their confessional-style poems expound upon their families' expectations, their cultural and political differences, and the ever-present threat of violence (as punishment for their love or just getting caught in crossfire). Though a romance, this book is not so much a love story as a story about love in the face conflict and division. Less narrative than other books in verse (like Out of the Dust or The Crossover), there are some beautiful poems - I used so many post-its marking my favorite lines! I wish the author had made some different choices; sometimes it gets difficult to tell which poem is Ronit's voice and which is Jamil's, and in trying to show both sides as mirror-images/two sides of the same coin, the structure gets a bit repetitive. I'd recommend this to Shakespeare and poetry fans and anyone who wants a quick read that doesn't skimp on dramatic tension and thought-provoking content.