Review: When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

In this intensely romantic, modern recounting of the greatest love story ever told, Romeo’s original intended—Juliet’s cousin Rosaline—tells her side of the tale. What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: Everything. 

Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy…and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance. 

Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends….

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I love the premise of this novel. I’ve adored Romeo and Juliet since junior high, but I’ve never thought it was the greatest love story of all time. I mean, it’s horrible and sad, there is no happy ending… but I think that’s partially why I liked it. For anyone who actually paid attention as they read the story, it can serve as a cautionary tale: love isn’t everything. And sometimes wild, crazy love isn’t all that great… sometimes it gets you killed. Sure, this is obviously a worse case scenario, but still. Rebecca Serle’s retelling of this classic, from Rosaline’s point-of-view, the girl left in the dust when Juliet enters Romeo’s life, is entirely too reminiscent of some of the logic that I remember happening in my high school years.

Rosaline and Rob (the Romeo of the story) have been neighbors and best friends for years, but, in the last few years, things have changed. Rosaline and Rob teeter on the edge of something more than friends and Rosaline feels that he might be the one. Rob finally asks Rosaline on a real date, they kiss, and things are progressing just as Rosaline had hoped… better even. That is, until Juliet, Rosaline’s cousin, moves back to town, riding waves of drama. Overnight, Rob and Rosaline, which took years to happen, has been replaced by Rob and Juliet. Rosaline is shocked and heartbroken, but there’s nothing she can do except watch tragedy unfold.

Take away the drama and Juliet’s instability and the basis of When You Were Mine will speak to many readers. High school love is a special kind of love. Many are feeling love, or what they think is love, for the first time. It’s overwhelming and exciting and terrifying… That’s exactly what Rosaline is experiencing. Now take that and add a old family scandal, a cousin bent on revenge, and a very public diss from the boy you truly feel is the one. Poor Rosaline.

It’s obvious from the start that Juliet isn’t exactly stable, but, as the novel progresses, Juliet shows herself to be more than just your average emotional teen. She’s dealing with some sort of deeper issue, perhaps very intense depression or bi-polar disorder, and she’s bent on taking others down with her. This is very different from Shakespeare’s Juliet, but I think readers will recognize her nonetheless. Even with her destructive ways, it’s hard not to feel for Juliet. She needs help – professional help – and nobody is there to notice that.

Another aspect of this book I particularly like, is that I felt that Serle called Romeo (Rob) out. One day he’s completely in love with Rosaline, a girl who’s always been there for him, and the next he’s head over heels for Juliet, a girl he barely knows and is Rosaline’s cousin? He’s obviously not the stand-up guy Rosaline thought he was. Regardless of the other drama and the tragedy that ensues, Rosaline was better off without a fickle guy like Rob. 

I highly recommend When You Were Mine to both fans of retellings and those who are looking for an intense contemporary read. And don’t worry, Rosaline isn’t left all alone. Not only does she find some inner strength she didn’t know she had, she finds a guy who’s much more deserving than her past Romeo.

Simon Pulse, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781442433137, 334 pages.
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