Title: Waking Romeo
Author: Kathryn Barker
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
‘There is nothing either perfect or imperfect, but thinking makes it so.’
The world has ended. Not from a block-buster disaster, but the technology to travel forwards in time, accompanied by humanity’s impatience to reach the good life. But life is anything but ‘good’ for eighteen-year-old Juliet—her lover, Romeo, is left in a coma after their wild romance, leaving her to pick up the pieces of the life she was so ready to throw away. Jules knows that she can’t avoid the consequences of her actions forever, but when a time traveller, Ellis, arrives with the sole mission of waking Romeo, Jules will be forced to confront everything she knows, and everything she’s tried to supress. From award-winning author Kathryn Barker, Romeo & Juliet meets Wuthering Heights in this ambitious time-travelling adventure to save the world.
This book has everything you could ask for in a time-travelling plot: secrets of the past, a future in jeopardy, and the unexplained occurrences of the present—each of which fall into place in a satisfying conclusion. But Waking Romeo is more than just a reimagined classic. The young characters, in all their regret and insecurities, confront the combined themes of love, grief, and discrimination prevalent to their original stories in a courageous path to self-love. By recontextualising these characters and themes in a more progressive environment, Barker presents young readers with hope for change through a future guided by their own actions.
‘Maybe time changes nothing. Or maybe time was never the problem. Maybe the problem was always me.’
While the bleak future of our idle world looms over the characters, it in no way makes the story a less enjoyable read. The characters are engaging, with a lot of history and quirks that I’d love to have seen more of, and the mysteries are convoluted enough that I was left theorising what would happen next in between reading sessions. There is rarely a dull moment with its fast-moving plot and it has plenty of themes and insightful monologues to give readers something to think about. From mental illness to ideas around masculinity, Barker touches on many societal issues that are prevalent to the story’s young audience, a generation that is actively striving to deconstruct societal expectations and forge a healthy and productive path of their own.
The pacing is definitely a strong point of the story, but I also found that it plays into its weaker areas. While it helped to raise the stakes, the time frame in which the story takes place meant there was less room for an in-depth exploration of character dynamics in relation to each other and the story, often making their presence one of convenience more than character. And while there were a number of great themes interwoven throughout the story that provided interesting insight, the large amount of them within this small time frame meant that only a few could be unpacked in a meaningful way. At times the story felt too convenient, characters and plot points revealing themselves only when necessary before taking their leave, and secrets of the protagonist intentionally withheld until they became relevant, rather than allowing readers to buy into the reality these characters believe in. These factors didn’t necessarily take away from the story, but it definitely left me wishing for more depth.
Barker does a wonderful job of capturing a future that is a believable outcome for our modern world. The re-imagination of classic characters in a dystopian setting was fresh, exciting, and a little bit weird, yet provides itself as a discussion point by picking apart old ideals in classic literature through young people wanting to change their fate. For readers looking for an unexpected blend of genres and stories, Waking Romeo will take you on an adventure you won’t expect.