When You Were Mine

When You Were Mine - Rebecca Serle I usually love alternative retellings of popular and classic works, particularly if the story involved gives a unique twist or spin on the original work that makes you consider it in its own league or spectrum. I think the best Shakespearean spin-off/retelling/interpretation I've read in recent memory in any genre is "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. I loved the play, I even adored the movie (if you haven't seen the movie and you've read Hamlet - do it now - it has Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, you really can't go wrong with that.) One the brilliant things about it was that it was able to take elements from Hamlet and spin them in an interesting way - one that manages to be funny, engaging, and tell a whole other side of the original work while managing to stand on its own.As far as the best YA Shakespearean retelling/interpretation I've read, well, it wasn't this book. I'll be frank, it was far from being one of the better books I've read overall as well. Why? It tries to force so many elements into it that it comes across as not only muddled in its overarching story, but even offensive. I've honestly never read a YA book that features so much slut shaming and just a derogatory portrayal of teen relationships and living in my life. Serle might've been going for another, modern angle of the tragic, some would even say "love" story of Romeo and Juliet, but it turned out to be more of an offense than anything else. It wasn't a fun read, and matter in point, the relationship aspect of the novel was not the only problem I had with the novel, but among several.The story revolves around Rosalyn (Rose), who many would know in the original play to be Romeo's first love, who subsequently rejected him and he pined after her before he fell in love with Juliet. Well, in this interpretation, Rose is in a relationship with Rob (the book's Romeo) that's just starting to get off its feet after he returns from the summer. Olivia and Charlie, Rose's best friends, are pretty much urging her on to get with Rob because of how "hot" they would be together and after changing from his respective experiences. And for a little while, their relationship is actually cute. When Serle depicts the "in medias res" parts of the relationships, she does it well, but it really doesn't take up that much of the book. So the billing for this as a romance or even being remotely romantic is inaccurate over the larger spectrum of the novel. It also takes a bit to get to that point, because, in the first 100 pages of the novel, Rose spends a lot of her time rambling about things in her life and taking on such an inflated ego that I wanted to throw my e-reader against the wall. Not only does Rose detail her interpretations of the sexual relationships of the people around her, but she also manages to denounce a boy for his nationality (the Belgian), gives a skewed view of education (her stereotypical depiction of AP classes). Even one of Rose's friends manages to denounce a boy for his virginity because he reads Moby Dick. *rolls eyes*But I digress. Let's move forward to the heart of the plot, shall we? It gets worse before it gets better, and saying it gets better really isn't saying much.Out of the blue, Rose's cousin Juliet shows back up into town after ten years of being away with her senatorial family. The claim is that Rose's family somehow betrayed Juliet's early on in life, and that's caused a rift between the two families. Juliet's pretty much pegged as the antagonist from point one of the time she's introduced. She's depicted as having pulled off the head of a doll Rose received at Christmas when they were seven. Seven. As if people can't change between that point from their subsequent experiences.Moving on.So, Juliet falls for Rob from point one, demands that Rose allow him to escort her to the upcoming dance. Then Rose catches Romeo dancing with Juliet at the dance. A certain signal that her once budding relationship with Rob is over. Not only is it pretty much an insta-love connection given very little context, Juliet's relationship with Rob is pretty much billed as being slutty and a bad influence on Rob - changing him from a nice sweet boy to one that's increasingly troubled. And people depict Juliet as a "crazy bitch" (I'm citing directly here, forgive the language) who is suicidal. Are we given any rationale or context to this aside from being rumors?No. Which makes the characterization that much more wooden, and the emotional resonance shot because of the telling and lack of showing. Even then, it's a crass portrayal that isn't realistic at all. I'm not saying that Rose didn't have the right to be hurt and anguished over Rob's betrayal (as well as Juliet's) - if anything, the novel depicts that, in some ways, in a tangible fashion. But as a reader, I don't like seeing plot devices so obviously skew in one direction in order to elicit sympathy for a particular party, especially when the other party is ostracized in the way that Juliet's character is portrayed here. I'd rather read a story that can show both sides, give dimension to the characters, and present it in a way that, while it may be cruel, at least it gives proper context and allows the reader to feel for the groups involved. Unforunately, Serle does not do this in the work.On a positive note, the novel's redeeming factors - to an extent, come in two measures. One of them is Len, the other boy whom Rose falls for in the mix of grief she feels for losing Rob. He not only calls Rob out on being a jerk in the whole situation, but he also looks out for Rose and is there when she needs him - or at least tries to be. He even gives her space when she's still pining for Rob, and he manages to be funny in spurts. The other redeeming factor of the novel, though I think it was rather long-winded and the novel could've ended much sooner than it did - were the reflections made aftermath of the tragedy, with Rose's family and Rose's coming to terms with the loss. There were some decent parts to that in we can't always prevent or tell when things are going to happen, and that life runs its course, for better or for worse. I still didn't like the heavy-handed nature where Juliet was blamed for being the one that killed Rob by external parties, but I did think Rose being able to move forward, even in her reunion with Len, was a nice aspect of the story. Unfortunately, none of the positive aspects of "When You Were Mine" overtook the larger negative measures of the work. I can't recommend this because of its conflicting messages and, for me, being a read that was cumbersome from beginning to end. There are much better retellings to be had out there. This isn't one of them.Overall score: 1/5Note: I received this as an ARC from S&S Galley Grab.