I recently read the book ‘Ronit & Jamil’ by Pamela L. Laskin and I really wanted to talk about it. I think this is mostly because I do have a lot of mixed opinions on this book.
This is a spoiler-free review, so if you haven’t read the book you don’t have to worry about getting spoiled while reading this post.
note: I did not enjoy the original Shakespeare play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so that may have affected the way that I viewed this novel.
Ronit & Jamil
author: Pamela L. Laskin
number of pages: 192
published: February 21st, 2017
genre: poetry, romance, retelling
my rating: 2.5/5 stars
“Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.
Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.
The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.”
The fact that this book is written in verse shocked me at first but I got used to it quickly. I thought this was a nice way to connect the novel to the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare’s original work (which this novel is based on).
There were times when I enjoyed the writing and times when I didn’t. Towards the end, it sounded wrong (I listened to the audiobook). There were times when Pamela L. Laskin used really nice metaphors and imagery, and there were also times when it sounded dull and horrible. For example:
” They may have named me
a pet name
since I am a river
my feelings are liquid
even before Ronit
I was the boy without armor,
because I love to read and write,
but I also listen to Coldplay,
so why say
I melt? “
I feel like this should’ve been written “normally” because having this written in verse didn’t help me, the reader, visualise the characters, settings etc.
The constant (unlabeled) changes in point of view was frustrating. Due to the different narrators, I was able to tell the difference between the two. However, it felt all over the place and somewhat unorganised. If the author had focused on each character for a little bit longer, allowing the reader to fully understand and allowing for further character development, I probably would’ve enjoyed this book more.
The relationship between Ronit and Jamil, to me, felt rushed and that it was based on sexual attraction alone. There was no development of an emotional, romantic connection between the two of them. The novel was filled with lines such as:
“so I know
she thinks of me
as a man
who would lift her skirt
and love her,
not the foolish boy
thinks I am.”
The lack of a development of an emotional, romantic connection between Romeo and Juliet is something that I felt was left out of the original play and could’ve been added to this retelling in order to make it better. This could’ve been done by making the story longer in order to further develop these characters and their relationships with their families and each other. By doing this, the novel could’ve been so much better.
I did not appreciate the use of ableism in this novel (through the use of the word “l*me” – I cannot remember what was being described in that moment, but it was definitely not describing ‘[of a person or animal] unable to walk without difficulty as the result of an injury or illness affecting the leg or foot.’) This was only done once which is better than having ableism throughout the novel, however, it was one too many.
There were a few phrases that, to me, felt a bit American and felt out of place in this novel. I felt that these odd lines didn’t help with the development of the setting, especially because this book is written in verse.
This novel somewhat addresses the Israel/Palestine conflict. I was expecting it to really go into the Israel/Palestine conflict, and help not just myself, but other teens and readers to better understand this. However, I was disappointed, I felt that I just read a load of “fluff” (for lack of a better word). There was very little political context, I personally do not know a lot about the Israel/Palestine conflict, which made it a little bit harder to understand the betrayal caused by their relationship. I do understand that this is a story, not something that is used to educate people, but I just expected a bit more information than what was given.
The author attempts to give the reader some context in the brief “Reader’s Note” at the beginning which says:
“There are several references to a “fence” throughout the book. This is actually a separation barrier–being built by Israel–that runs near the “Green Line” between Israel and the West Bank. The premise behind it is that it would prevent terrorists from entering Israel proper; however, there is much controversy surrounding this structure.”
I jumped onto Google because I wanted to know more about this ‘fence’ because I felt that the information that was provided was inadequate.
The ‘fence’, which is described in the quote above, in my head looked like this: After some simple Googling, I found out that it actually looks like this:
Basically, this ‘fence’ is really a ‘separation barrier’. I do not understand why the author has called it a fence throughout the novel as she states that it’s a ‘separation barrier’ in the Authors Note, logically they should’ve called it a separation barrier throughout the novel so that they do not confuse the reader.
Also, it is a twenty-five foot high concrete wall (7.62 metres) that is 430 miles long (692.018 kilometres) This is something Pamela L. Laskin failed to mention, something which she could’ve easily done in the Authors Note. If she had done this it would’ve made the image of the ‘fence’ a lot bigger, causing the reader to understand what a big deal it is.
In order to fully explain the size of the wall, I found a graphical representation comparing the Berlin Wall to Israel’s Apartheid Wall.
On this same website, I found this:
“The semantic problems posed by the use of the word “fence”, in either language, are enormous:
1. A structure serving as an enclosure, a barrier, or a boundary, usually made of posts or stakes joined together by boards, wire, or rails.
1. An upright structure of masonry, wood, plaster, or other building material serving to enclose, divide, or protect an area, especially a vertical construction forming an inner partition or exterior siding of a building.
2. A continuous structure of masonry or other material forming a rampart and built for defensive purposes. Often used in the plural.
4. (a) Something resembling a wall in appearance, function, or construction.
To characterise the structure as a “fence” without referencing its other features is highly misleading.”
I also found out, through the same website, that the wall does not run along the ‘Green Line’ as I believed it did, due to the authors’ description of the ‘fence’.
There was some explanation of the Israel/Palestine Conflict, however, I felt that it was briefly explained and was rushed. As I did with Israel’s Apartheid Wall, I went onto Google to find out more about the Israel/Palestine Conflict. To oversimplify this, this conflict is because of land. Becuase the British Government (from roughly around about 1913 to 1915) made too many promises and then attempted to ‘fix’ this but unfortunately made this so much worse.
As this is a book review, not a history lesson, I’m not going to go into all the finer details about the Israel/Palestine Conflict. However, for those of you who want to know more about it, I watched the “Conflict in Israel and Palestine: Crash Course World History 223” YouTube video, and John Green did a very good job of explaining it in a way that made sense. I think it’s also important to know a bit about the Jewish Diaspora, I watched another Crash Course video, “Christianity from Judaism to Constantine: Crash Course World History #11” and another YouTube video called “The Jewish Diaspora”.
All of the information that I found on the Israel/Palestine Conflict was found from the 2003 article “Is it a Fence? Is it a Wall? No, it’s a Separation Barrier” on The Electronic Intifada, the video “The Wall Between Israel and Palestine” on Youtube as well as the Youtube videos “The Israel-Palestine conflict: a brief, simple history” created by Vox and “The Illegal Israeli Wall – What You Need to Know in 90 seconds” which is also a YouTube video.
Please leave a comment if any of the information I have shared on this is incorrect or if any of these sources, which I have listed, are unreliable. I have tried my best to make sure that these sources are reliable and are sharing correct information.
Overall, I thought this novel was well written, it just required more development of the main and side characters as well as more political context.
Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought about it in the comments