Waking Romeo by Kathryn Barker

Title: Waking Romeo
Author: Kathryn Barker
Published: March 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Readership: Young Adult
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rating: ★★★★
RRP: $19.99

I received a copy of Waking Romeo from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

What if Juliet Capulet met someone who made her doubt true love? What if Wuthering Heights was a message to a time traveller? A cosmic reimagining of Romeo and Juliet and homage to two literary classics in a compelling novel about fate, love and time travel from an award-winning author.

YEAR: 2083. LOCATION: LONDON. MISSION: WAKE ROMEO.

It’s the end of the world. Literally. Time travel is possible, but only forwards. And only a handful of families choose to remain in the ‘now’, living off the scraps that were left behind. Among these are eighteen-year-old Juliet and the love of her life, Romeo. But things are far from rosy for Jules. Romeo is in a coma and she’s estranged from her friends and family, dealing with the very real fallout of their wild romance. Then a handsome time traveller, Ellis, arrives with an important mission that makes Jules question everything she knows about life and love. Can Jules wake Romeo and rewrite her future?

A highly original mashup that delights as it disorients … and asks what would have happened if two great literary love stories were somehow intertwined.

Waking Romeo is a mind-blowing book that will have you sitting there thinking about it long after you’re done reading.

Set in a future where time-travel forward in time has been common place for years, and left destruction in its wake for what remains of the human race, Juliet is left in a world where Romeo is in a coma and everything she thought she knew about her life is about to be flipped on its head. Time-traveller, Ellis, is sent back to save the future and help Jules to wake Romeo and live out her fate.

A confession (or two) before we begin: I’ve never read Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights, which are the two classics that this very clever young adult sci-fi story twists into a delightfully disorientating story about young love and devotion. I have enough basic knowledge of the two classic stories to follow this story enough and be wowed by what Kathryn Barker has achieved.

First word of warning – this gets very twisty and being a time travel book, don’t get comfortable staying in a linear timeline, because that’s not happening in this book. As Jules and Ellis work together to wake Romeo, their paths take them forwards and backwards in time as they try to find all the pieces of the puzzle that will help them. Thankfully each chapter lets us know when we are , which becomes crucial information in the final act of the book.

I really enjoyed Jules coming of age story – we start off two years after she and Romeo have almost died and she’s living out the consequences of trying to take her life while living in a very small community. She’s a loner, someone who doesn’t trust others easily, and is a creative soul at heart, writing out her tale of love for Romeo. She knows only her world – the walls that contain her – and is distrustful of time-travellers until Ellis turns her world inside out and she’s forced to become stronger than she ever believed possible for herself. Of any character in this book, her growth is the greatest and it was a delight to read.

Ellis also goes through a huge growth arc – a young man born in the past and living in the future – tasked with waking Romeo to save the rest of humanity. It takes a little longer to get the truth of who Ellis is and how he fits into the wider world, but it’s worth it when we get there.

There’s something truly fascinating about a time-travel story – it doesn’t let you rest on your laurels or take anything at face value. You have to pay attention or you miss the information that’s going to help you unravel the mystery the writer has laid before you. Barker does a wonderful job of not only retelling two very famous stories, but also creating something completely fresh and new.

It’s an ambitious book and one that was one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had in a while.

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