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Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011).
Set during the early years of World War II, when England was being regularly bombed by the Germans, and the USA had not yet entered the war.  Eleven-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig's parents decide Felicity would be safer in Maine with her father's family than she would be in England -- especially since they must be gone on a mission that is all too mysterious.  Felicity is not happy with her circumstances and clings to her stuffed bear and writes letters to her parents that can not be sent as she doesn't know where they are or when they will come back.  Mysteries, secret coded letters, family secrets, and a twelve-year-old boy that is dealing with his own insecurities caused by polio.  Aunt Miami, The Gram, Uncle Gideon, and "Captain" Derek (the twelve-year-old)  all play a part in bringing the mysteries to the forefront and in helping to solve the number code. 

This would have been a perfectly wonderful mystery for upper elementary readers (both boys and girls) if the allusions to a romantic attraction between Derek and Felicity had been left out of the story.  It seemed to serve little purpose except to limit those readers who might have enjoyed the narrative as a great historical mystery.  Enough romance with the Derek's and Felicity's maneuvering to get Aunt Miami and the postal carrier together.  The focus on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is superbly done and will be an interesting connection for those who might be ready to explore some classical readings.
I would have liked the ending to have come to a definite conclusion regarding Felicity's parents, and the other elements concluding the story seemed to be too predictable and tidy.  The conclusion makes the romantic elements concerning Derek and Felicity all the more problematic.
Upper intermediate readers may overlook the flaws in the tale, but the flaws are distracting enough that it might limit the readership potential.
A book of historical fiction whose facts are backed up with a very interesting author's note at the end of the tale.

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