Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North

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Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North

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Category: Humour
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: For a brief glimpse of my thoughts on this book, look at the star rating. Or for a longer discourse, read the full review.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 9780356508535

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For all those who think tragedy plots are too restricted and prescribed, read on. In these pages you too will see that Romeo had lots of options en route to hitting the bottle. Likewise, she could have turned away from her predestined path at no end of junctures. And to what result? Well, happy marriage and a kid called Ben, because the leads have just banged people's heads together and stopped the quarrelling, or Death by Tybalt (him) or a long life running an establishment curing murderous women, such as a Lady M (her).

I started with Romeo, talking with my friend about unrequited love, but that didn't mean I stayed Romeo for long. Within scenes I was off with Juliet, as Juliet, buffing up my muscles and having asides to the end of the book regarding rooster's testicles. On the whole, I'd been following Shakespeare's variant of the path here, as they're signed by a red heart before you choose them. Whether this is the right way to go is, of course, entirely up to you – it certainly looked that the more pronounced your diversion from the norm, the shorter your story might be. I, for one, was soon in a bar, clinking beers with a hunk, living with him a couple of years, and becoming a pirate, the end.

So I backtracked a little, and soon swapped from Juliet to Romeo, which was myself seeing myself and liking what I saw on a party dancefloor. Eventually, I was at that balcony scene, although I was Juliet again, pondering the Montague peener (whatever that is – although I think I can guess) and living it all in modern argot. I then had the quandary to declare love back or to say it was all a bit sudden. As the book has taken great strides to hammer home before now, I (Juliet) am sixteen, and even if my mother thinks I'm late to the altar, I (Juliet) have hardly had a decision to make so far.

You get the gist. Everything here is wrapped up in teen-talk, which can dip into the Shakespearean quite appropriately and quite well at times, but does eventually grate. It made me feel the book was only really suited to American teens whose speech is attempted here; certainly, other people will have too much cause to dislike the style and turn the book aside. Follow those red hearts of Shakespeare and you'll get pretty much a straight-up telling in the style of all those modern-dress, based-on Shakespeare teen comedy films we suffered a few years back.

The set-up isn't completely like those Choose Your Own Adventure works – there you flopped all the way from one end of the book to the other, and it really was at random. Here you seem to start at the beginning, and pretty much stay at the start, for some time at least. Also, a lot of my first experience of Juliet was sequentially numbered sections with no choice, and while other beats might have been feeding into the path without my knowledge, from my point of view it all could have been one long piece.

What made the book not work quite so well for me, was that I couldn't really branch away from old Bill as much as I wanted. I diverted from the norm initially, only to get a bonus paragraph or two, then it was back to the routine I already knew. Try something new, and you soon get a blunt 'The End' – although, as the book also points out, seeing how blunt and unnecessary the play's ending actually is, any other kind not involving joint suicide is a good call. But it didn't provide me with a huge swathe of original, Shakespeare-riffing, Shakespeare-spoofing or Shakespeare-changing text.

BUT… there was, only just around the corner, something riffing on the whole gamebook genre, where you 'play' the Nurse trying to get a message to Romeo, and where you need to crack a code to get at all far. I'd seen glimpses of this plot strand during my browse, courtesy of it using an olde timey computer font. Other things to 'unlock' – two smaller adventures, based on other Shakespeare works, and all the illustrations that go with the endings, from such esteemed names as Becky Cloonan and Jim Zub. I won't even countenance the reading time it should take for you to find them all naturally.

And there you have it. You can, of course, take the purchase option, and try this out for yourself. There is a heck of a lot of book here. It can riff on the whole Shakespeare canon quite well; it can frustrate, however, with its tone of voice, and both with its sticking to and diversifying in so bonkers a fashion from, the original. What is certain is that getting a heck of a lot out of this book needs a heck of a lot of work.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

As you'd expect, adult-friendly books in the 'wrong' order aren't terribly common – we can think of Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck Palahniuk and that's about it. You could shelve this alongside When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle. For more from the lovers, try The Romeo and Juliet Killers by Xavier Leret.

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Buy Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North at


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