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What: Teach the Torches to Burn by Caleb Roehrig

Who: Feiwel & Friends

When: July 25th 2023

How: A copy of this novel was provided by Feiwel & Friends for review.

Verona, Italy. Seventeen-year-old aspiring artist Romeo dreams of a quiet life with someone who loves him just as he is. But as the heir to the Montague family, he is expected to give up his womanly artistic pursuits and uphold the family honor–particularly in their centuries-old blood feud with a rival family, the Capulets. Worse still, he is also expected to marry a well-bred girl approved by his parents and produce heirs. But the more Romeo is forced to mingle with eligible maidens, the harder it is to keep his deepest secret: He only feels attracted to other boys.

In an attempt to forget his troubles for just one night, Romeo joins his cousin in sneaking into a Capulet party. During a fateful encounter in the garden, he meets the kindest, most beautiful boy he’s ever encountered, and is shocked to learn he’s Valentine, the younger brother of one of his closest friends. He is even more shocked to discover that Valentine is just as enamored with Romeo as Romeo is with him.

So begins a tender romance that the boys must hide from their families and friends, each of them longing for a world where they could be together without fear. And as the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets escalates out of control, Romeo and Valentine find themselves in danger of losing each other forever–if not by society’s scorn, then by the edge of a blade.

Teach the Torches to Burn is the diverse Romeo and Juliet retelling from Feiwel & Friends’ Remixed Classics series. I was pretty darn excited for it because the author is Caleb Roehrig, the author of Last Seen Leaving, an incredible queer YA thriller which you need to read if you haven’t already. I was even more excited when I was lucky enough to be approved for an early review copy.

Sadly, that excitement died a swift death from almost the moment I started reading. The writing in this book was over flowery to say the least. It felt like it was trying to emulate a Shakespearean tone but for me it really missed the mark. It didn’t help that there was little to no plot, so the excessively flowery writing was just about Romeo and Valentine and Romeo and Valentine, repeat to fade.

The other thing that really fell flat for me was the fact that this story didn’t stick enough to the story we know in Romeo and Juliet. I understand that it’s a retelling, but when the overarching themes and hugely important scenes from the original are erased, it makes me wonder what the point of the retelling is. For example, when Mercutio dies after Tybalt confronts Romeo (and also dies), he curses both the houses of Montague and Capulet in his dying breath, despite having contributed to the fighting and being best friends with Romeo. This is supposed to hit hard because young people are literally dying in the streets over a pathetic family feud which has no true meaning. But in Teach the Torches to Burn, Mercutio lives, which I think is an interesting choice because that pivotal moment was never delivered. Also, the Mercutio in this book is fully supportive of Romeo and his fight against the Capulets which just… no.

Another element that made me side eye was the fact that Juliet actually exists in this retelling. This move made no sense to me. I think it was a big missed opportunity because, like the move with Mercutio, it took too much away from the point of the original novel. When the love interest isn’t a Capulet then how are the adults in the story supposed to realise that their ridiculous feud resulted in the deaths of their beloved children and thus that said feud was indeed ridiculous and should be ended. With Valentine not being a Capulet none of this was realised. And Romeo and Valentine didn’t have to die for this theme to still come about – the ending still could have been hopeful for the younger audience like the author said he wanted it to be – but it still could have kept with the purpose of the original play.

Anyway, as you can tell I wasn’t on board with this book even though I so badly wanted to be. I’m sure there are folks who will read this and not mind the things I mentioned – I truly didn’t even know I was such a stan for the themes in Romeo and Juliet until I read this book lmao. But if you’re looking for a queer Romeo and Juliet that still holds true the heart of the play then I don’t think this is the one for you.

© 2023, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

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Posted on: September 19, 2023 • By: Chiara

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