Ronit & Jamil

192p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062458544.
Gr 7 Up—Poet Laskin's short, lyrical novel in verse is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in present-day Jerusalem. Ronit is an Israeli girl whose father, Chaim, is a pharmacist, and Jamil is a Palestinian boy whose father, Mohammed, is a physician. Chaim supplies prescription medications to Mohammed's patients. The two teens first meet at the clinic where both their fathers work, and, as in Shakespeare's original, the young lovers fall for each other after meeting only briefly. Through secret texts and clandestine meetings, they desperately try to be with each other while facing opposition from their parents and the very real physical barrier between Israel and the West Bank. The story departs from the original, though, with the implication that Ronit and Jamil will escape the conflict and find a way to be together—an underlying message of hope for the larger Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Laskin frequently quotes Shakespeare's play as well as Arab poets, including Rumi and Mahmoud Darwish, and makes skillful use of Middle Eastern poetic forms, such as the ghazal. It may occasionally be difficult for readers to tell which character is speaking, but the accessible verse and universal questions about crossing cultural lines make for a quick and powerful read.
VERDICT An obvious choice to pair with Romeo and Juliet in a literature class, this can also open discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and about bridging cultural boundaries.

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