I started Romeo for Real the morning after I finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I finished before I got to work. That afternoon on the bus home I read this one and finished it before bed. Not only are these short works, but they are hi/lo novels that are designed for reluctant readers with easier language and fast paced as I found out when I got them from NetGalley*
It’s hard to separate this from Romeo for Real because they are the same story from opposite perspectives. I wouldn’t usually be mad at a decision to write like this, but the fact that they are separated into two books is frustrating. Neither book can stand on its own without leaving SO many questions unanswered and even together the two books don’t have enough character development to make them worth it.
These books have so much potential, but due to the lack of character development for the somewhat large number of characters, the fast pace of the book, and the heavy/personal subject matter it falls short. That being said Harwood-Jones included a line by Julian’s mom that did remind me that this genre in general has always been full of tropes and super-fast moving stories.
“‘Teenagers, so dramatic,’ Angie teased, a tear still in her eye. Julian shot her a look and she winked at him, leaning down to wrap him in another hug.” (Chapter 16)
I mean the actual Romeo and Juliet occurred in only four days (more or less) and this one takes less than a week. It doesn’t end in death like the original but it does have dire situations, confessions of love, and even mentions of marriage. It’s like COME ON you are so damn young.
The piece that I felt Harwood-Jones could’ve spent more time on in this book was the self-harm experienced by Julian. With it almost a daily occurrence (Google News search link) in the news cycle, and it’s almost dealt with in a passing comment here. I feel like Julian and Romeo could’ve had a frank discussion about it that would’ve not only given their characters more depth, but would’ve been an educational opportunity for young readers.
The other thing that really bothered me and I mention it above is that it was split into two different books. This is really one book with alternating chapters. I would rather read one chapter of each book than read the entirety of each book and the move to the next. This style would’ve made it a lot easier to empathize with Julian and sympathize with Romeo. It also would’ve made me less angry at the ending of Romeo for Real which ends a chapter before Just Julian and on a less than stellar cliff hanger.
Recommendation: Again, pass unless there’s something that really piques your interest. Don’t bank too much for the Shakespeare and don’t plan on super deep character development. I still think it would’ve been a better book if they were merged, but they weren’t so this is what you get. It also wasn’t clear which to read first and I got lucky. I guess it wouldn’t matter too much, but with this one going a little further in the story than Romeo for Real it makes sense to read this second.
*I received a copy of Just Julian from the publisher via NetGalley in return for my honest opinion. No goods or money were exchanged.
Opening Line: “Julian’s cheek hit against pavement.”
Closing Line: “Holding on to a piece of his past and a piece of his future, Julian knew, this was only the beginning.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)