Romeo & Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

romeo-and-julietCindy: Well, it’s Mystery Month here at Booklist and The Romeo and Juliet Code (Scholastic 2011) is an historical mystery set in Maine during WWII masquerading as a contemporary romance. The up side to all the flack that Scholastic has taken for this absurdly inaccurate cover art is that it has brought a lot of attention to a fine book that otherwise might have quietly slipped under the radar. Felicity’s parents have dumped her at Gram’s house with her odd Uncle Gideon and assorted other eccentric household residents while they return to London, where work awaits but bombing is the reality. Flissy gets used to the horrid nickname she’s given, and the unsettling sounds of the wind and waves, but she misses her parents and wishes the war hadn’t separated them. She is determined to speak as little as possia-mystery-month-tagble, preferably with one word answers to questions she can’t avoid. It’s not long before she is drawn out of her solitude by events that leave her with nagging questions that develop into minor and major mysteries for her to solve. Who is the mystery person that Uncle Gideon delivers meals to in an upstairs room and why does he never come out? And, if her parents have gone to London, then why are letters coming from Portugal from them for her uncle?  Why won’t he share their news? Felicity is determined to get to the bottom of it all, including deciphering some code before she’s done. This quiet novel has a strong setting and quirky characters and a charming voice…and will make a great booktalk for reinforcing the idea that we should never judge a book by its cover. 😉

Lynn: “Most British children are brave,” Felicity tells us and she is!  Uprooted from dangerous London and plopped resentfully down with strangers, Felicity waits for her parents to come and claim her.  But her Teddy Bear Wink isn’t so brave.

“He felt he didn’t belong here, and everything made him feel like a bear without a country.  He felt he didn’t belong anywhere.  I rocked him in my arms and I said, ‘There, there, Wink, don’t cry,’ and soon I was crying too, because Wink’s tears always went straight to my heart.”

Through Felicity’s instructions on the qualities of British children,  conversations with Wink, her letters to her absent parents and her endearing first person narrative, readers slowly solve the many puzzles in Felicity’s life and uncover long hidden family secrets.  We also absorb a wonderfully immediate sense of the time, place and dramatic history along the way.  I loved this aspect of the book.  Too often in historical fiction the necessary background history gets in the way of the story but not here.  Stone allows the readers to discover so much throughout the course of the unfolding tale and there is never an instructional feel.

The other aspect that really stands out for me is the character development.  Like the historical background, Stone allows us to construct our understanding of the characters slowly and naturally.  Felicity’s observations and reactions to the people around her gradually build for readers into a sense of deep familiarity.  We know these people and we care deeply about them.  Both teachers and students will love the sections on Felicity’s sixth grade teacher, Mr. Bathtub!

Our bookclub teens have really enjoyed this book.  Some of them picked up the book because of the misleading cover and while they were irritated by it, they ended up loving the book.  This lovely skillfully crafted book will be wonderful for historical fiction units, book clubs discussions  – and mystery fans too.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

4 Comments on "Romeo & Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone"

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  1. Yes, we all miss that great 1970s vocalist Phoebe Snow, who passed on just a few weeks ago…

  2. Valerie, Mea Culpa! I’ve corrected the author’s last name in the title. It’s Tulip Time Festival here in Holland, Michigan and I’m thinking of that great 1970’s icon Tiny Tim as well but clearly not thinking straight when it comes to titling our blog post today!–Cindy

  3. elianamoskowitz@yahoo.com' eliana says:

    i am in middle but does the girl get back home?and does derek feel better of his parilized arm

  4. angelaking97@yahoo.com' Angela King says:

    I loved that book is was s sad!!!!!!

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