What do you have to do to be a player in your own story?
That is the question for Matilda “Mattie” Monaghan, whose lack of presence means not being invited to the biggest Halloween party in her town. When she sneaks in to catch a glimpse of her crush Elijah, she instead finds herself talking to the funny and intriguing (and British!) Gemma Braithwaite. The problem? Gemma is very much a part of one clique, while Mattie is in the other. Things only get more complicated when Mattie takes on the role of Romeo opposite Gemma’s Juliet in the school’s eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet. Through the play and her role as Romeo, Mattie learns about crossing seemingly impossible social lines while taking control of her life and choices.
Star-Crossed is one of many modern takes on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and yet it feels fresh. The appeal of Romeo and Juliet lies in the forbidden nature of the romance, a feeling which is captured perfectly by reframing the story around two young girls who develop a crush on each other. This book is perfect for tween and younger YA readers, however older readers can also find things to relate to in Mattie’s narrative. Despite being directed at a younger audience, Barbara Dee doesn’t make Mattie’s world simplified or perfect. Mattie’s big sister Cara and mother argue and fight every time Cara visits from college. Her friend Tessa is the daughter of divorced parents, although it’s only mentioned tangentially. The struggles Mattie faces with trying to decide how much to reveal to her friends about her growing crush on Gemma doesn’t come across as childish or unrealistic — it feels like real fear of knowing that people may and will treat her differently if they knew she liked girls. In one scene she witnesses her classmates commenting how weird it is for girls to be playing male roles in Romeo and Juliet. Although her English teacher, Mr. Torres, makes it clear he won’t tolerate any prejudice, Mattie is still very clearly surrounded by peers who may not be entirely supportive of LGBT individuals.
However, Star-Crossed is a love story at its core, and one that’s executed with a good balance of reality and fantasy. As a woman who discovered her sexuality at a young age, I appreciate Star-Crossed for normalizing affection between same-sex tweens. Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma unfold very naturally, from realizing Elijah isn’t her true love like she thought to noticing how Gemma smiles at her. A scene where she leaves Gemma an anonymous love note of Romeo’s lines is particularly sweet and poignant, while the ensuing confusion over who wrote the note keeps the momentum going through the book. While I won’t spoil the ending, I think the resolution of their feelings toward each other is perfect and powerful, showing Mattie that her feelings are valid and allowable. Throughout Star-Crossed, Mattie struggles with making decisions and going after what she wants. By the end of the book, she learns that taking action and embracing who she is rather than sitting in the background allows her to be a happier, fuller person.
Dee, Barbara. Star-crossed. New York: Aladdin, 2017. Print.