I love, love, love the idea behind this book and think it could even be particularly interesting to those teaching Romeo and Juliet. The book is based on the idea that Shakespeare didn’t create the characters of Romeo and Juliet – that these two lovers were, in fact, real people who lived a couple hundred years before Shakespeare’s time and not in Verona, but Siena, Italy, and were named Guilietta and Romeo.
In the novel, Italian-born, American-raised Julie Jacobs discovers that there are questions surrounding the death of her mother and father when she and her twin sister, Janice, were children. It may not have been accidental as the girls were raised to believe. After her American aunt and caretaker dies, Julie receives a letter from her will, explaining her mother’s involvement in a mystery of some sort in Italy. She is also given a key to a safe deposit box in Siena.
Julie Jacobs has always felt like a shadow to her twin, who is vibrant, impulsive, and beautiful. When the opportunity comes to do something without her twin and find out more about her mother, she jumps at the chance. But what she finds awaiting her in Siena are characters still all-too-involved in a feud between families, spanning centuries. Her mother actually married into one of the feuding families, making Julie a descendant of the original Juliet.
The safe deposit box contains traces of her mother’s investigation into the truth surrounding the real Romeo and Juliet. It is believed that the families involved have been cursed since the deaths of these two young lovers, as Shakespeare records in his version of the tale: “A pox on both your houses.” Julie becomes as equally obsessed as her mother once was with uncovering answers and finding a way to break the curse. But most importantly, her mother’s work indicates a hidden treasure known as “Juliet’s eyes” exists that could rightfully belong to Julie.
Complete with intrigue, suspense, history, romance and a touch of the supernatural, this book is an enjoyable adventure. Through excerpts of a journal, readers learn the accounts of Guilietta and Romeo’s past, but also get swept up in the dangers the present-day Julie faces. Fortier captures the beauty of Siena, as well as the colorful personalities of its residents.
Julie is presented at first a mousy, uninspiring girl who seems to have no sense of direction for her life, but as she gets caught up in the mystery, she begins to show courage and perseverance. She emerges from the shadows in which she has been hiding her entire life and comes face-to-face with her own insecurities as her sister arrives in Siena. Their complex relationship is relatable as a severe case of sibling rivalry and the dynamic between the two entertaining.
The mystery itself is captivating though the plot was a bit sluggish at the beginning. I was not completely and overwhelmingly hooked until almost mid-way through the novel when more focus was given to present day Julie and the enigmatic Alessandro, rather than Guilietta and Romeo. But once I was hooked, I stayed up most of the night finishing the book.
Admittedly, I enjoyed the present day escapades with heroine Julie far more than those of Juliet and Romeo written in the novel, but I’ve never truly understood the sudden intensity of passion between those two characters even as Shakespeare wrote it. I found more believable and interesting the developing romance of Julie with possibly dangerous Alessandro.
Fortier told a wonderful tale, weaving into it the Bard’s own beautiful words, which cannot be an easy feat. I definitely recommend it!