Laskin, Pamela L., Ronit & Jamil. Harper Collins, 2017. 183p. ISBN: 9780062458544 $17.99 HS, ***
Ronit is an Israeli girl. Jamil, a Palestinian boy. In the heat of the summer, they fall in love with each other, defying not only their families but their whole cultures. Ronit’s father, a pharmacist, travels routinely with his daughter to the Palestinian side of Jerusalem to bring medicines for Jamil’s father, a doctor that treats the poor and sick. During these visits, the two teens meet, fall in love, and start a forbidden relationship that will eventually make them choose between their families and their love. But unlike in the story that you are thinking about, Ronit and Jamil manage to run away from their families to be happy together.
In this retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Laskin sets the proverbial couple in a new, contemporary setting, but not any easier to navigate than the classic one. The novel, written in verse, is a quick read that gives you a peek into the lives of teenagers in a different culture, but with the same universal struggles: falling in love, disappointing their parents, and making a place for themselves in the world.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is pulled to center stage around the middle of the novel, when both teenagers reference their cultures to give the reader context on their stance of the conflict. However, the novel doesn’t take sides and simply pleads for peace. The structure builds on the idea that the two cultures are more similar than they look with a lot of parallelisms. Throughout the book, the story alternates poems in the voice of Ronit and Jamil, mirroring their experiences and feelings, sometimes so similar that it takes a second to know who is talking. The hormones are very present in their teenager bodies, hinted by very artistic descriptions.
In general, the novel is an OK read that will interest those that love reading about stories set outside the United States and, of course, fans of the classic Romeo and Juliet.