Dugan, Jennifer. Verona Comics. G.G. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 327p. ISBN: 9780525516286. $17.99. MS, HS ****
Ridley and Jubilee are unlikely romantic heroes. He’s the anxiety-suffering, oft-overlooked son of a comic book mega-legend. She’s a hyper-focused cello prodigy whose mom is an indie comics writer and owner of a struggling comic book shop. Going to the comic prom is definitely not what they would ordinarily consider a good time. Yet here they are, awkwardly meeting in the elevator, not yet knowing they are the children of sworn enemies, and inevitably falling for each other. When Ridley figures out what is going on he is determined to find a way to stay in contact with this amazing girl in spite of their families. But will the feud between their families prevent them from a happy ever after?
This book is a sort of a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in a comic book shop. It’s also partially a contemporary romance between two kids with problems of their own. I wish it had decided which one it wanted to be because there was too much plot and too much manufactured drama for such underdeveloped characters. Ridley ends up being not much more than anxiety and a skateboard with terrible parents. Jubilee ends up simply a cello player with two parents and two best friends who are super-concerned about her while she’s super-concerned about her sexuality.
There are definitely things to like about this book. The racial and queer diversity of the characters is a highlight. Jubilee is eloquent in her exploration of sexuality across the gender and sexuality spectrum, and this is neither an add-on nor a distraction from the plot so much as an authentic unfolding of a young person’s burgeoning sexuality. Descriptions of Ridley’s anxiety and the ways it impacts the life of others is also well done. I appreciated the energy that went into describing the details of his anxiety and how it played out. I only wish other features of these characters and their lives were as fully explored. My main complaint with this book is it built up manufactured drama and situations. By the time the authentic conflict arrives toward the end of the book I had nearly given up on anything real happening. So the ending came as a bit of a shock. If Dugan could have infused the first two-third of the book with some of that same emotional depth, it would have been a more balanced book.
Even so, this is a story of star-crossed lovers set in the comic book world and so some teens are really going to eat this up. There is no cursing and no on-page romance that goes further than kissing. There is one reference to a make-out session that gets handsy, but that’s it. There is significant discussion of mental health issues including frank discussions of self-harm, though little o- page violence and a hopeful ending. All of which suggests this book would be suitable for middle school as well as high school readers.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library – Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch