Ronit & Jamil – Pamela L. Laskin

alternating narration, biracial couple, diversity in YA, families, love, Middle Grade Romance, novel in verse

Take Romeo and Juliet and put it in current times with the Israeli and Palestine conflict and we have Ronit & Jamil.  A smart Israeli girl and a smart Palestinian boy, both raised by doctors who meet in passing assisting their fathers at a hospital.  Thus begins this little (178 paged pocket sized) universal love story.

This story reads quickly and even quotes a few lines from Shakespeare’s work.  What is unique in this modern retelling is that communication not only occurs via text messages, but that Ronit and Jamil, unlike Juliet and Romeo, know the entire time they are going against family rules and cultural laws.  In fact, knowing how their relationship would be both a disgrace and punishable, makes them value their time together even more than the immature star-crossed-lovers.  The forbidden love is similar, as it has probably occurred throughout time, but these passages make it modern in a way the reader – even if unfamiliar with the Palestine and Israeli struggle – will follow.

Throughout the alternative narration, Ronit and Jamil have similarities with their family lives and their own interests, as seen in the passages “What I love” and “What I hate”.  The overall tone is one of finding love and while being afraid of rules, family, and law, holding onto that love through a time of war; finding joy and truth when it contradicts what you were led to believe.  Ronit and Jamil eventually must face their reality and which they will chose: family or love.

The Carnival At Bray – Jessie Ann Foley

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads, love, Printz Award Nominee or Winner, suicide

The story begins in 1993 in Chicago then a move to a small town life in Bray, Ireland, which made me wonder if teens in 2016 would even grasp the Grunge movement or know of the musicians that intertwine with 16 year old Maggie Lynch.  Well, I needn’t have worried since Maggie is similar to any teenager whether living 20 years ago or today.  Her life is uprooted when her flighty mom suddenly marries and Irishman and moves Maggie and her little sister to the coast of Ireland. But teenage angst, first love, and identity issues follow a person no matter where they go.

At her new school, and new country, Maggie doesn’t quite fit in with the locals, but also doesn’t try too hard opting for evenings spent at home exploring the goodies in care packages her rocker uncle sends.  As she navigates high school, dating, and first crush, she also balances her personal loneliness, her favoritism to her uncle whom her mom and step-father seem to always clash with Kevin’s ideas and behavior.

This novel in three parts covers a range of emotions and life experiences that one would have difficulty covering in one novel without seeming rushed or random.  That is, unless you are Ms. Foley who manages to show depth and personal growth to Maggie nearly every few chapters. The pilgrimage Maggie takes is not only physical, but emotional and enlightening maturity wise (other than leaving the country and not telling the parents, that’s never a mature action). As she comes across fellow travelers, she realizes the world is larger than what she believed not only regionally, but in relationships.  As she deals with personal loss, she also undergoes personal growth; while learning to accept herself, she learns to forgive her mother.  Relationships and experiences are at the heart of this novel whether it’s a friendship with Bray’s 99 year old village legend or the rocker, grunge loving irresponsible uncle.  Advice from both men help Maggie live to the fullest, open up to others, and experience life.

This story is certainly for the older teen reader (sex, alcohol, suicide, sexual encounters, drugs), but the telling of the mid 1990s and of life in Ireland is such a unique mix that I was surprised to find it so familiar.

This is also the funniest way to fill out an author bio that I’ve seen.  Jessie Ann Foley has her teenage self interview her adult self.


Awards and Nominations:

Printz 2015 Honor Book

William C. Morris Award Finalist

Kirkus Best Book of 2014

YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2015