Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

Felicity is mysteriously dropped off at her grandmother’s home in Bottlebay, Maine by her parents. There is so much tension between family members that Felicity wonders what happened to make grandma not come out of the house to greet her son who is Felicity’s dad. Her uncle won’t return her dad’s hug or look at her Mom in greeting. What’s going on? Then there is the wooden door on the second floor that is always closed and that she is to avoid. She knows that someone is in there, but who is it? Felicity does know that her family left London because of the constant bombing. World War II has started and it is too dangerous to live there. Her family finds secret passage to America but her parents whom she calls, “my Winnie” and “my Danny” don’t stay with Felicity. They return to Europe.

Scared, homesick, and lonely, Felicity talks to her teddy bear as a way to deal with all the changes and the lack of adults in her life. She knows that she is too old to carry around a teddy bear but it is the one constant in her life. The reader discovers that in London, Felicity’s parents would leave her home alone and work late nights. They didn’t abuse her but she was neglected. A housekeeper looked after her but not overnight. The new adults or relatives in Felicity’s life whisper around her and don’t give her straight answers. They don’t make it easy for her to adjust to a new country and they have strange secrets such as staying away from the wooden door and not touching the piano that is nailed shut. Gram criticizes Felicity. Felicity, understandedly, responds in anger by not answering them, looking at the ceiling or turning around and facing a wall. She doesn’t want to be there and is in culture shock moving from Britain to America. She is teased for using different words, but eventually settles into a routine. Soon people are adjusting to each other and Felicity develops a loving relationship with her aunt and uncle, as well as, discovering the secret of the mysterious person behind the wooden door. But the biggest surprise comes when she unravels the mystery surrounding the fight between “her Danny” and Uncle Gideon.

This story is so well-written. The voice of the characters are distinct with Uncle Gideon repeating himself often because he’s nervous around Felicity and Aunt Miami who is melodramatic and full of pizzaz. Felicity is British and often talks about how a British kid would act versus an American kid. She thinks about the differences in languages and stereotypes. She changes throughout the story and starts adapting American customs; we hear her calling her “plaits” “braids” and singing jazz songs. The author does a terrific job with the setting. The wind talks to her and reveals her mood. It can be angry, moaning, whipping, or calm, warm, and gentle. Metaphors and similes of the ocean and ships are sprinkled throughout and adds to the powerful New England setting feel: Oh, come now, it’s only a game, you two,” Uncle Gideon said later, after he had crushed us both at Parcheesi and we were sitting there feeling like two smashed-up fishig boats side by side on the beach. Uncle Gideon looked over at us in a terribly cheerful way. p 50-51. This focus on nature reminded me of The Secret Garden, although it isn’t as extreme (see review).

Felicity changes from the beginning to the end of the story gaining confidence and adjusting to a new culture and family. The plot is predictable in some areas but it doesn’t take away from the story. The reader will figure out what’s going on between the parents and what Winnie and Danny do for a living long before Felicity. The mystery is slowly revealed adding tension and keeping the pace moving along. I got a kick out of the part where Felicity reads, The Little Princess, by Frances Burnett Hodgeson and when she has to do chores with The Gram (grandma’s nickname) she compares herself to the orphaned main character in The Little Princess.

Felicity has a crush on a boy so there is some romance but just in her thoughts. She never even tells the boy she likes him. The ending hints at a romance between Aunt Miami and the Postman, Mr. Henley, and leaves the reader with hope that Felicity’s parents will survive the war.

Reading level 5.7
:-):-):-):-) 4.5 out of 5 Smileys

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