Jacqueline Woodson starts this book off with an introduction explaining that she wanted to write an updated version of Romeo and Juliet. So knowing that, and without giving anything specific away, be forewarned about that.
This is a wonderful exploration of teenage feelings, teenage tenderness, and like Eleanor and Park, is and isn’t a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Both are a retelling in a way, without getting too much into the forces keeping them apart (at least keeping families at bay).
But that doesn’t mean this book isn’t deeply sad and saddening as a consequence. So, what we have here is the love story of Jeremiah, a well-off Black teenage boy from Brooklyn of famous parents (his father is a filmmaker and his mother is a novelist), starting off a school year at Percy Academy, a private school in Manhattan. On his first day he meets Ellie, a Jewish girl from Manhattan whose parents are also well-off. The “star-crossed” element of the novel is set up in the novel as the interracial aspect of their relationship, but it’s more complicated than that as well. What becomes clear is that the societal forces keeping them apart are cultural and influential but they’re not explicit. This means that we don’t have a parent or a teacher or a church member banning them from seeing each other, but the small cultural voices of discourse, racism, and other less visible forces inching their way along their bodies.
That doesn’t mean this book doesn’t still exist within the framework of racism and violence, because it does, and this comes up, but more so that the lines being drawn are not as clear as warring families in an Italian principality in the 14th century.