The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

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After reading several enthusiastic reviews of Phoebe Stone’s new middle grade novel, The Romeo and Juliet Code, I moved it a little closer to the top of my “to read” pile. A few weeks later, I read Liz Rosenberg’s review in the Boston Globe, which began with this sentence: The Romeo and Juliet Code is “quite simply the best novel for young readers I’ve read since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’’  Clearly a call to action was in order – I was at the bookshop a few hours later. A few work-related books put the brakes on my intention to read Stone’s novel immediately, but I opened it to the first page a few days ago and read: “I was always told that my dad, Danny, loved danger.” After that, I was hooked. Although I might not go quite as far as Rosenberg, I think Stone’s novel should definitely find a place on summer reading lists for students in grades 5-7. 

It’s a story for people who love books. There are references to Frances Hodgson Burnett and settings reminescent of old English novels – whispered conversations, a big house overlooking the ocean, characters straight out of a PBS miniseries, and of course, a code to crack.  The story opens in 1941 when, because London is being bombed, Felicity is sent by her parents to stay with relatives in Maine.  Over the course of the novel, she uncovers family secrets and solves a mystery. One of the best characters in a novel full of interesting people is not a person at all. It’s Felicity’s teddy bear, Wink. 

But…I have an issue with the book based on something completely superfluous to its story. This is a shallow confession, but every time I picked up the novel, my mind played a trick on me, and I expected to open a book set in the 21st century. The Converse sneakers. The way the feet are positioned . The overall mood of the jacket photo says – 2011. Not 1941. So when I began reading, it took me a minute to adjust to 1941. It shouldn’t matter, but it did. It’s like having an album (remember those?) in the wrong sleeve. You think you’re going to hear Duke Ellington. No, it’s Adele. Whole different vibe, right?  I hope the paperback version features a rocky Maine coast!

Don’t let my cover problems discourage you from reading this book. It’s on Inly’s summer reading list, and I plan to recommend it to a few young friends this week.


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