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When fifteen-year-old Romeo’s mother leaves one day and doesn’t return, he finds himself homeless and trying to survive on the streets. Mute and terrified, his silence makes him vulnerable, and one night he is beaten by a gang of other kids, only to be rescued by a boy who pledges to take care of him.
Julian is barely two years older than Romeo. A runaway from an abusive home, he has had to make some difficult choices and sells himself on the street to survive. Taking care of Romeo changes him, gives him a purpose in life, gives him hope, and he tries to be strong and keep his troubles with drugs behind him. But living as they do is slowly destroying him, and he begins to doubt he can be strong enough.
This is the story of their struggle to find a way off the streets and stay together at all costs. But when events threaten to tear them apart, it is Romeo who must find the strength within himself to help Julian (and not let their love story turn into a Shakespearean tragedy).
As I teased in my review for Innocence earlier this week, Suki Fleet has captured me heart and soul with her storytelling. If you’re on the fence about reading This is Not a Love Story or any others she’s written, take note: Fleet is a rising star in her field. In fact, on Wednesday she was named as a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award for This is Not a Love Story. Wow. All the admiration and congratulations to you, Suki Fleet! I can’t wait to read more of your work.
One last thing. This review is a mash-up of my and fellow Boys In Our Books blogger Sara’s thoughts. Even though we didn’t do a buddy read, we read it at about the same time, she graciously shared her thoughts with me, and some of them exactly mirrored my own. Thanks Sara! :)
This is Not a Love Story is Romeo’s first-person tale, and it’s as tough as they get. He’s young and living on the streets of London. Worse, Romeo is mute. He can’t speak, he can’t cry for help. He’s being protected by another homeless boy, Julian, who’s just a couple years older. Romeo and Julian’s lives are filled with desperation and hardship and brutality. It’s what they know. But even though he’s mute, Romeo is the loudest person you might ever meet.
Romeo and Julian have an established connection as the book begins, and their bond nearly did me in. The author doesn’t need to tell me how these two feel about each other; it’s in everything they do. For all his naivety, Romeo is a quick study in life on the street. He’s adaptable, a survivor; you can’t help but become attached. I adored Julian, not only for his actions and how he treats Romeo, but to see him through Romeo’s eyes was gorgeous.
This novel is everything, and I can’t imagine never having read it. The story is drenched in themes of friendship, loyalty, love, angst, redemption and forgiveness. It’s hard to review it without giving away plot points, secrets that belong to Romeo and Julian alone.
It’s sadness in spades because stories like this are real. There are homeless teens out there doing anything they can to survive (all the awful things you can imagine and then some), and they aren’t out on the streets because it’s their choice. It was beyond frustrating to witness the treatment of Romeo and Julian and see the tragedy around them. But with that, there’s this tiny ray of hope for love, true love and the strength that comes from its bond.
This is Not a Love Story is labeled YA/NA. It’s true the sexual content is fairly tame (though it includes scenarios that may be a trigger for some), but it was incredibly erotic to witness the sexual connection blossom between Romeo and Julian. Like, breathtakingly erotic. Passionate. Obsessive. Fiery.
The secondary characters—too many standouts to name!—also are rich with depth and vivacity. Their stories are screaming to be heard, and seeing this is a series, well. Bless. Break my heart one more time, Suki Fleet.
Sara is more intuitive than me, and thank goodness. The Shakespeare connection hit her immediately, where it took me a bit longer: “Seeing the MC’s named Romeo and Julian and saying this is NOT a love story? Come on. The Shakespeare nerd in me perked up and the curiosity began. I wasn’t expecting the boys to be of the Shakespeare persuasion, nor the story to have a prince declaring a plague on any two houses, but it made me buy the book.” So true, Sara!
This is Not a Love Story is one of the toughest stories you’ll read this year, but I’m begging you, do it. It will be hard. It will hurt. You might cry. But things will be okay, I promise. (Trust me.) And then you’ll have a new book to add to your “favorites-of-all-time” collection.