on March 6, 2011
This is a story written from the inside out, through the eyes and heart of an 11 year old child. The plot has been revealed by other reviewers. But the feelings of loneliness, frustration, discovery and love can only be caught in the author's poetic, nuanced language - so linked to the magnificent coastal Maine setting. The poetry is also linked to a crew of interesting and irrepressible characters, a touch of adventure, a hint of romance and humor -- all likely to entice more mature elementary and middle school children. Flissy, Derek and their quirky family grow beyond themselves without even realizing it. And we the readers are offered the gift of seeing beyond our daily trials to the strength and beauty of human spirit. I prided myself in guessing the gist of the ending well before it came. But that didn't stop me from crying when it did come. And my tears were not all sad! This is a very human lesson in history that will touch readers to the core--as if it were happening right now.
P.S. I am a children's librarian and come across many new books and am moved to review very few. Trust me. This one is a winner.
on February 4, 2011
Eleven-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig is a very proper British girl. She is stoic, plucky, and knows how to knit. She is a big fan of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and proud of Britain's involvement in the war against Germany. But life in London amid the air raids is getting just too dangerous for children, so Felicity's parents, Winnie and Danny, manage to arrange passage for the family to America, where Danny's family lives on the coast of Maine.
Winnie and Danny drop off Felicity --- and her beloved companion, the stuffed bear Wink --- with Danny's family, whom Felicity has never met before. They then leave to go back to England --- or so Felicity believes. All through the rest of that summer, there is little word from Winnie and Danny. No mail for Felicity, only mysterious letters for Danny's brother Gideon, bearing postmarks from Portugal. Gideon won't let Felicity see the letters, so she takes matters into her own hands, uncovering surprising information about Danny and Winnie along the way.
These aren't the only family secrets Felicity discovers during her stay in Maine. Her American relatives are unusual, even if America isn't quite the wild frontier she had always imagined. Uncle Gideon is both goofy and sad, holding secrets and bearing grudges that Felicity doesn't understand. Her Aunt Miami adores Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and dreams of a life on the stage, even though she's terrified when that opportunity finally arises. And then there's the unseen recluse Captain Derek, yet another mystery for Felicity to figure out. At first, she's not sure about these new American relatives, especially when they give her a nickname (Flissy) and seem reluctant to answer so many of her questions.
Felicity is an unusual and beguiling heroine, both mature and matter-of-fact but still charmingly young for her age. THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE is likewise a pleasant family comedy that will appeal to readers of all ages, but there are still darker themes that lurk around the edges. Winnie and Danny's activities during the war are thrilling to be sure, but they're also dangerous. The novel addresses themes of betrayal, grief and forgiveness, as well as exploring the different faces and forms of love. These themes, as well as the many ambiguities with which the book closes, make THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE suitable for readers who, like Felicity herself, are ready to embrace both romance and realism in equal measure.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
on July 4, 2011
In Romeo and Juliet Code, I found great humor, loyalty to family no matter the circumstances and friendship beyond all means. Character, Felicity made the best of her situation with being dropped of by her parents with relatives in Maine (please don't just read the book because of the State of Maine!). I can picture the huge house with lots of family and quirky family issues. The book took a bit to get moving, but once it did, it was a great story. I suggest the book for 10-12 year olds that understand the dynamics of WWII. Suggested for large church libraries.
It seems unfair that my attention was first drawn to "The Romeo and Juliet Code" because of its cover. No book deserves to be held responsible for its misleading jacket and Phoebe Stone's latest is no exception. Set during the Second World War, the book looks like a rejected shot from a GAP catalog more than a historical novel (pink Converse?? Really??). When ire was aimed at the jacket early on I remember many a supporter saying, "It's such a pity it has that cover because the story is wonderful!" Willing to give it the benefit of the doubt (after all, "The Trouble with May Amelia" has a similar problem and is a magnificent bit of writing) I plucked up a copy from a friend and started to read. Oh my. No book, as I say, deserves to be held responsible for the sins of its jacket, but this book has sins of its own above and beyond its packaging. Ostensibly a kind of mystery for kids, folks with a low twee tolerance would do best to steer clear of this one. It is indeed beloved in its own right but this particular reviewer found its style to be strangely grating. As historical fiction goes, this does not go to the top of my list.
Flissy has found herself unceremoniously dumped. One minute she is living happily in her flat in England with her parents Winnie and Danny (though she doesn't much care for the bombing going on outside). Next thing she knows they've managed to hitch a ride on a ship bound for America and she is left in the care of an unmarried uncle, an unmarried aunt, and a grandmother, none of whom she has ever met before. Her initial homesickness and loneliness are partly appeased when she starts uncovering the secrets lurking in the house. A hitherto unknown cousin by the name of Derek is found upstairs. Uncle Gideon is receiving strange coded messages and they seem to be coming from Flissy's Danny. And why does everyone keep talking about the whispers in the nearby town? What other secrets can one family harbor? Flissy doesn't know but with the help of her cousin she is bound to find out the whole truth.
I have an unattractive habit that comes out whenever a book starts to grow repetitive in some way. I count. Which is to say, I count the number of times that repetitive element appears. When I read "Eragon" for the first time I counted how many times a chapter began with some version of "Eragon woke up" (final count: twenty-one chapters do this). In the case of "The Romeo and Juliet Code" my weirdness was prompted by the author's use of the term "ever so" as in "I was ever so interested in the number of times `ever so' appeared in this book." There are thirty-seven moments when the phrase pops up. In two cases the phrase appears twice on a single page. Reading an advanced readers galley of the book I was convinced that this had to be a typo of some sort. Surely the author got a little carried away and the copy editor would lay down the law before publication time, yes? Apparently not. On the child_lit listserv the book's editor spoke about the ubiquitous cascade of "ever so"s. There was an intention to make the phrases prolific at the start of the story when Flissy is clutching to her British identity like her stuffed bear and then to slowly weed them out by the story's end. A noble idea that didn't quite pan out. There is indeed a portion of the book where the phrase dies out. That would be between pages 131-159. Then they come back full force. Indeed, there is no lessening of the words, so that you get to the final one on page 286 while the story ends on page 295.
This does explain a different problem I had with the novel, though. I had a hard time believing that Flissy was English. Every time she pulled out a Britishism, be it "chap" or "putted along" or any of the other hundreds of words and phrases dotting the text it felt . . . well, it felt like Flissy a girl who had visited England for a little while and was trying too hard to sound like she was from there. To be blunt, she sounded American to my tin Yankee ears. The editor in that same child_lit explanation said that two Brits vetted the book, so really I shouldn't have any objections at all. Still, every time I was just about to sink into the story, out Flissy would come with a sentence like, "I am very fond of Mr. Churchill. He's our lovely prime minister in England," and my teeth would start to grit. Add in the near ridiculous number of secrets kept from Flissy at the start for some rather shaky reasons (they didn't tell her that her sick cousin lived upstairs for what reason exactly?) and it made for slow going.
Yeah, but would a kid care? Honestly the bulk of child readers picking up this book aren't going to mind two bits if the heroine refers to herself as "very much more clever" and the like. They're going to care far more about the characters and the story. Which is all well and good until you come to realize that as a heroine Flissy is a bit of a wet blanket. You want her to solve the mystery of the code the minute you hear about it, but after she and Derek discover the coded letters, their efforts to decode them are, for chapters at a time, largely forgotten. Once in a while Derek will mention that the code isn't found in any of the code books he's read, and Flissy might track down the mailman again so as to get a new letter but it isn't until a third character practically physically hands them the answer without any prompting that they start trying to actively solve it. My thinking is that if the word "code" is in the title then your protagonists have to be a little proactive about said code. Otherwise it just feels like the author is treading water.
"The Romeo and Juliet Code" has been most frequently compared to "The Secret Garden" and it's easy to understand why. Both books begin with girls sent to live with hitherto unknown uncles and who discover hidden male cousins who have an inflated sense of their own physical uselessness. Of course that all ends somewhere around page 127 and so the comparison sort of peters out. There's also the fact that Mary Lenox, the star of "The Secret Garden", works as a character because she's a spoiled little brat. You don't like Mary, yet over the redemptive course of the book you come to love her. Flissy isn't really like that. True, I found her unlikable at the start, but in a different way. Flissy felt self-absorbed to me. She was a realistic portrayal of a girl immature for her age, and while you might know that kind of person in real life, it's hard to stay in her presence for as long as a novel requires.
In spite of her immaturity Flissy is a romantic, crushing on her cousin. Precocious girls of the romantic persuasion are maybe the hardest characters in the world to write. Phoebe Stone, therefore, has my utter sympathy on this one. It's very hard to write an Anne of Green Gables / Girl from "The Fantasticks". You have to walk this delicate line between the earnest and the ridiculous. So while I cringed every time Flissy commented on Derek's various positive qualities, at the same time I couldn't help but acknowledge the truth behind them. Girls really do think that way. It's not necessarily pleasant to read, but it's honest.
Some folks have found the surprise at the ending of the tale to be predictable, but that didn't bother me particularly. As I see it, most kids probably won't see it coming and those that do will simply feel pleased with themselves. What did bother me was the rest of the novel itself. The passive protagonist. The odd speech patterns that attempt to be historically accurate but feel as if the writer is trying too hard. Dig deep enough down into "The Romeo and Juliet Code" and I think you could find characters and ideas worth exploring in a novel. It's a pity all of that is buried beneath a style that hurts rather than helps. The book will find its audience, there is little doubt. Enjoying it, however, will have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.
For ages 9-12.
on July 12, 2014
Felicity Bathburn Budwig is only eleven years old when she must leave England in the dark of night to travel with her parents, Winnie and Danny, across the sea to America. It is 1941, bombs are dropping in England, and the journey on the boat is just as scary. Felicity has never known any other family besides Winnie and Danny. As a matter of fact, Felicity has spent much of her eleven years raising herself. She meets her family in Bottlebay, Maine and they're like nothing she could have ever imagined. The Gram, Uncle Gideon, Aunt Miami, and Captain Derek are a cast of characters she will have to get to know on her own, no matter how hard it is. What choice does she have when her parents leave her there all alone, with nothing but a letter to give to Uncle Gideon if they are not back by Christmas? It is so hard for Felicity to keep that letter sealed, but she knows that good English girls are trustworthy. Everything feels so different from England, and she's very happy to have her bear, Wink, to keep her company when no one else seems to understand her. As the days go by Felicity, now nicknamed Flissy, longs for a letter from Danny and Winnie, but none seem to arrive for her, only for Uncle Gideon and they are all in some kind of code. When she finally discovers that Captain Derek is really a boy about her age, things really begin to change. Is it possible to have a crush on a sea captain? Will she ever hear from Winnie and Danny again? After they sneak in to Gideon’s room to read the letters, will she and Derek figure out what the coded letters say? Why is Aunt Miami always quoting Romeo and Juliet? What surprises will be discovered during the Christmas holiday season? You will have to travel back in time to Maine with Flissy and family to find out for yourself!
The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone seemed to lull me into another world. The house by the sea in Maine became a favorite of mine as Derek, Gideon and the rest of the Bathburns became comfortable to me in the cozy setting. I felt for Flissy and how much she missed her parents. Even though no one else is scared about the war, she can’t help it after all that she experienced in England, and she still looks at her surroundings through nervous eyes. My heart went out to Flissy as she longs to hear from her parents and she worried about their safety every day. When Flissy and Derek tried to crack the code I felt nervous and stressed out for them. I was also impressed with their detective work! Flissy is someone I would most definitely want to be friends with, not only would it be fun to be friends with someone from another country, but I loved the way she spoke, and I connected to what was in her heart. All she really tries to do is help people and make their lives better. Being a child abandoned during the war would be very difficult, and it was so refreshing to see the way Flissy learned to trust herself and depend on those around her. She always had to be an adult, and now she finally gets to be a child. I can't wait to read the next book by this fantastic author! I think this book will be enjoyed by kids and adults from fourth grade and up. Journey back to Maine in 1941 and you will discover more than you ever expected!
on March 18, 2014
I bought this book for my 10 year old granddaughter, but read it first because I was concerned that the cover might indicate a book about a boy/girl relationship she might be too young for. Surprise! This is not that kind of book! Instead, it is the most delightful story set in WWII with winsome characters, humor, mystery, setting (the coast of Maine), and tidbits of war history both in Europe and in the States that I did not know about before. The plot is a delicious page-turner with touches of intrigue that make the reader anxious to read the next book and find out the rest of the story. Loving it so much, I passed it along not only to my granddaughter, but to my grown daughters, three more adult friends who love sweet stories with British overtones, and then ordered a set for another very special pre-teen. There IS a boy/girl friendship, but it is most innocent and heartwarming. LOVED these books!!!!
on March 3, 2016
this book was really good. i really liked books that were set in the past and during wars and i liked how this book was during WWII. i thought it was sad though, since the parents went back to England to finish being spies. Also i liked how the girl got to live a new the life during a dark time. Overall i liked this book very much.
on May 4, 2011
The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone is a poignant, well-plotted, character-driven novel that will appeal to a wide audience. Felicity is the intelligent and wise-beyond-her years heroine, who has been transported from war time England to the safe haven of Maine, USA. In a large home in a remote location it begins to feel as if every room harbors one quirky, irascible and fascinating character after another. Tied in with Felicity's attempts to overcome her loneliness and adjust to a dramatically different place and family there emerges an over-riding plot that involves secret communications between the allies in their war against the Nazis. This is an altogether splendid novel that packs as much character, plot and background into its 300 pages as anyone could possibly imagine. Presumably aimed at a young adult audience, like The Secret Garden, The Romeo and Juliet Code soars beyond mere demographic restraints. Highly recommended for readers of ALL ages.
Retired School Librarian
on September 1, 2012
As a mother who screens everything her 13-year-old daughter reads - or tries to anymore - I actually read "The Romeo and Juliet Code" before the very different "Codename Verity" (previously reviewed). "The Romeo and Juliet Code" was not so much a spy tale as it was a tale about a girl coming to terms with the "indiscretions" of her parents' youth while being isolated in a somewhat Anne Frankish way - and I was very touched by the way each character dealt with their issues. The one thing that struck me was how *normal* this story could have read were it not set against World War 2. It just goes to show that some experiences transcend time and culture. It was a little sentimental, but I would read it with Anne Frank's "The Dairy of a Young Girl" and the American Girl stories of "Molly" and "Emily", just to get a different feel of how WW2 affected pre-pubescent girls differently. It's not as gritty as another Phoebe Stone's offering "The Boy from Cinnamon Street" but I think the theme of how adult actions can have far-reaching consequences for their children in both books is equally well-handled. Said daughter's review follows:
"'The Romeo and Juliet Code' by Phoebe Stone was an amazing WW2 book.
"Eleven-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig tries to be like a proper English girl. She knits, loves Winston Churchill and totes her bear, Wink, around with her *everywhere*, even to America, where her parents, Winnie and Danny, drop her off to live with some mysterious new relatives. Auntie Miami, Uncle Gideon and The Gram are all right - but they aren't Winnie and Danny.
"Then, Felicity and her friend, Derek, discover letters written in a secret code from her parents to Uncle Gideon. Between cracking the code, dealing with her first crush, finding her aunt a boyfriend and writing to President Roosevelt, one thing's for sure - England might have bombs and air raids, but in America, people make their own adventures!
"My favorite character was definitely Felicity. She was so funny and sweet and I think that it was just amazing.
"My favorite part would have to be the ending, as usual. I won't spoil it, but it was really sweet. :-) I also liked the little bit of history tucked away in the back - eat this, male chauvinists pigs: QUITE A FEW BRITISH AGENTS WERE WOMEN!!!
"Oh, yeah, and I *loved* the writing - sigh, if only I was half as good a writer as I am a reader! Don't worry, though, I'll leave the *real* writing to the professionals. :-)
"I would give the book five stars: two stars for the plot, two stars for the characters, and one star for the writing. Awesome book!!!!"
on June 4, 2012
First, do not let the cover fool you as it fooled me. There are NO Converse in this story. As a matter of fact, the cover 100% does not match the story - at all.
But do not let that keep you from picking this book up and reading it. While I was convinced this would be a young tween love story, it was more than that. It was a story about self-discovery, about trust in others, about trust in oneself.
Felicity is a young British girl whose parents decide it is no longer safe for her to remain in London during World War II. Instead of sending her off on a train, they take a boat to America where Felicity can stay with family. As soon as she arrives, her parents leave without a word of where they are headed. Could her parents be spies? Could they be secret agents? Felicity isn't sure, but she remembers times where she was left alone until late into the night. That's evidence enough for her to spark her curiosity.
And then Uncle Gideon begins to receive letters written in her father's handwriting, and Felicity is convinced more than ever that something big is happening, but what? When the letters stop, she really begins to worry.
With the help of Captain Derek, Felicity sets forth on a mission to find the truth about her parents and how long she will remain in America.
I really enjoyed this book. I read it Memorial Day weekend, which I found quite fitting, even thought I did not realize at the time that this was historical fiction. I thought it was a tween love story - but I enjoyed Stone's execution of the plot.
There are interesting historical tidbits sprinkled throughout, including when America originally celebrated Thanksgiving and why it was changed. The plot is nicely paced, the characters are fully developed, and the mystery throughout builds nicely.
My only complaint is the ending. While I believe it is an appropriate ending to the novel, I do not think it is appropriate for the intended age group. I almost felt it was a bit of a cliffhanger, but since there will not be a sequel, I felt that ending needed to be a bit more clear cut.