Kathryn Barker, Waking Romeo, Allen & Unwin, March 2021, 386 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), IBSN 9781760297152
Waking Romeo is a suspenseful novel with many twists and turns and even a few important messages for the younger generation regarding action versus inaction. The protagonists are well developed and likable and the plot, although a little confusing at times, is imaginative and intriguing. Kathryn Barker has taken the classics Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights and turned them both inside out and upside down, revisiting their tragedies from a unique angle.
Waking Romeo is set in a dystopian future London. As to be expected in a book with a predominant theme of time travel, the events are spread across centuries. Juliet (Jules) is an eighteen-year-old currently living in the year 2083 while time traveller Ellis lives at the end of time, although he was born in Jules’ past.
Jules has been left alone to deal with the consequences of a messy and rushed romance. Some miscommunication and general frustration with the world has left Jules with only one functioning arm and her unofficial husband, Romeo, in a coma. The entire settlement seems to hate her. They watch her every move, make fun of her limp arm and even her family, the people she loves most, are treating her differently.
Ellis is a member of a select group of time travellers called the Deadenders, recruited by Frogs. The Deadenders use advanced technology to travel both forward and backward in time but are heavily reliant on Frogs to tell them where and when they are safe to travel. They must be careful, time can break. Ellis is sent back to Jules’ time with a single mission: wake Romeo. Only how does one wake someone in a drug-induced coma when they’re not a doctor, the medication and supplies they need no longer exist and their information source, Frogs, is MIA?
Kathryn Barker writes a creative, chaotic, and challenging novel about time travel with a futuristic spin on two literary classics with universal themes. Readers who enjoy dystopian science fiction, adventure and mystery should give this novel a read. Not to mention doomed romances of angst-ridden teens.
Waking Romeo contains a number of heavy themes including reference to suicide, toxic relationships, racism and ableism. For this reason, the target audience is fourteen and older.
Reviewed by India Boon