This review has been updated.
February 7, 2017
Understudies never get to perform
. . . which is why being Juliet’s understudy in the school’s yearly “Evening with Shakespeare” is the perfect role for Emily. She can earn some much-needed extra credit while pursuing her main goal of spending time with Wes, aka Romeo, aka the hottest, nicest guy in school (in her completely unbiased opinion). And she meant to learn her lines, really, it’s just:
a) Shakespeare is HARD,
b) Amanda, aka the “real” Juliet, makes her run errands instead of lines, and
c) there’s no point because Amanda would never miss the chance to be the star of the show.
Then, Amanda ends up in the hospital and Emily, as the (completely unprepared!) understudy, has to star opposite the guy of her dreams. Oops?
This just sounds like the cutest blurb ever. What’s not to like?
Unfortunately for all the build-up, Romeo & What’s Her Name never came together for me. Emily is spoiled, extremely privileged, doesn’t know the meaning of responsibility if it were to kick her in the butt, and immature. She’s supposed to be around 17, but acted like she was thirteen (or younger).
From the blurb, you know that she’s supposed to understudy as Juliet. She did this so that she could be around Wes. She’s supposed to get a credit in English for this. She couldn’t be bothered to learn her lines (but she has a lot of excuses as to why she couldn’t, boo, hiss!), so when she actually has to perform, she’s got nothing. It’s funny. Granted. But on the flipside, it shows her lazy, self-absorbed character.
Her mother says that Emily is so giving, but it’s actually Emily’s friends who are giving. Jill is the director of the sequence that Emily screws up, yet Jill forgives her. Kayla, her other best friend, goes out of her way time and time again for Emily. Emily offers nothing. Even at the moment when she could do something really nice, dance with Wes’ younger brother, she first has to wade through the pros and cons. Sorry, but a genuinely nice person doesn’t worry about what other people think, they just do it.
Also, unlike most other YA novels I read about high school juniors, Emily’s only focus is on Wes. We have no idea if Emily pictures a life beyond high school, a career, a job, no clue. She’s 24/7 obsessed with Wes. (For my friends who ask me why I read YA novels, because this is just the type of novel you think constitute YA, erm, most are not like this! Seriously!)
You know, it’s when you really want to love a story and look forward to it that you feel most let down. Amanda, the Juliet, is supposed to be some awful character. Unfortunately she’s also the only minority character, black and Asian. When she gets mad at Emily because Emily in all of her self-absorption decides that the best way to get Wes is to derail Amanda, we’re supposed to applaud. Nope. I felt bad for Amanda. I get it. It’s supposed to be a screwball scene, but take a step back. Amanda wants to be an actress, ends up in the hospital and forfeits her scene, but has a chance to do it again and Emily locks her up in a room? I get that we’re supposed to not like Amanda because Amanda is a stereotypic mean girl, but I’m not buying it.
So, you may be asking what are we left with?
The story has several funny, if cringe-worthy moments. The writing is really good; it flows. Ultimately, though, this just comes out to be a terrifically average novel because the first person narrator is totally unlikable. What would have improved it? Make Kayla, the real sweetheart, the center and have her always trying to save her lazy, privileged best friend from herself, even if it seems totally unlikely.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
rating: (3 out of 5 butterflies)