December 5, 2017



Barbara Dee

Pub. 2017

256 pgs.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary / Review / TLDR / Recommended For / Issues / Themes / Grade


Eighth-grader Mattie isn’t really sure of her place in middle school. She doesn’t invited to the “cool girls’” parties, though she can be convinced by her best friends to crash sometimes. She knows the boy she’s been crushing on since last year doesn’t like her, but she can’t stop holding out hope that he’ll change his mind. And then there’s the play, which everyone in eighth grade is expected to help out with, whether on- or off-stage. This year’s performance is Romeo and Juliet.

None of that is the biggest thing on Mattie’s mind, though. Gemma, the brilliant, talented, funny—and, Mattie admits to herself, pretty—classmate playing Juliet keeps sneaking into Mattie’s mind when she’s not careful. But what does that mean? Could Mattie have a crush on her? But Gemma’s a girl. And if Mattie does have a crush on Gemma…

Between rehearsals, schoolwork, and dealing with her best friends, this school year is likely going to be hard to forget!



“Mattie, why don’t you ask Mr. Torres if you can just leave out the kissing?” Lucy asked.
“Because it’s Romeo and Juliet! They get married! They die for each other! What are we supposed to do instead? Fist-bump?” (234)

In my head:
“Yo, Juliet, baby, whazzup?” *fistbumps*
“Hey there, Homie-o! Missed you, boo!” *complicated handshake*

I might be a terrible person, but I couldn’t stop giggling for about five minutes after this popped in my head. However, it’s a pretty good indicator of how I feel about this book, too.

I love all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to Romeo and Juliet in this! The first chapter, where Mattie and her friends are in the frozen yogurt shop, and then the lackeys of the alpha mean girl come in—Dee was definitely basing it off the opening scene. The same sorts of things are scattered throughout, like little Easter Eggs for fans of the play to find. It’s not entirely likely that students who haven’t read Shakespeare (or scene one of the Romeo and Juliet) movies will pick up on the references, but those who have will either giggle or roll their eyes.

I loved the conversations the kids have about what love means and whether Romeo and Juliet were really in love with each other. The way the whole thing was written, I could really see a group of students sitting around having a classroom discussion about it. I’d enjoyed the book up to that point where the first one started, but I wasn’t invested yet. It was just a cute little story with dozens of nods and a vague resemblance to the source material. When the actual discussions about what Shakespeare meant in Romeo and Juliet began, I really began believing in the book. That’s what hooked me and made me pay more attention.

But then there would be little tiny things that’d yank me from the story. A quip about Mercutio dying “in a jokey way.” The fact that the kids are twelve…in eighth grade, and with no indication that they skipped a grade. Actually, all the characters read younger than they were supposed to be. I wouldn’t have expected them to be in their last year of middle school. Seventh, maybe. Sixth, definitely. Sixth actually wouldn’t have been a bad choice; maybe they live in a district where that’s still elementary school, and it’s their big hurrah for being top of the heap. I mean, I work in a middle school, and ostensibly so did the author for a long time. I just don’t see the characters as eighth graders in my mind.

That’s not to say the characters are bad, though. Dee does a great job of making them unique and developed. We never learn why Willow, the “mean girl,” doesn’t like Mattie, but it never matters that much. She also proves to be a decent human being in some respects, like when she chastises another character for using “gay” as a derogatory term. All of the characters—and it’s a decently large cast—have their own voices and personalities. It’s easy to tell Ajay from Lucy, for example, beyond just the “male/female” thing. I never had to flip back to an earlier section to figure out who was who.

I also love that no one close to Mattie cares that she’s crushing on Gemma, a girl. They all just shrug and try to help her out, same as if she was interested in a boy. Mattie’s fears about being teased or whispered about, while completely realistic, are never realized in the story. While this might just be storybook nonsense in some schools, it makes me happy to think that my students live in a world where that kind of stuff isn’t a big deal. Like who you like and be happy. It’s a wonderful message.

But man, that fistbump line…*snerk*



A sweet story that takes its cues from the Bard himself, Star-Crossed would be great on middle-grade shelves.


Recommended for…

  • Kids who like Shakespeare
  • Kids looking for something fluffy
  • Kids questioning themselves or their crushes



  • Bullying: kids bully one another
  • Deceit: kids trick others
  • Lying: kids lie to one another
  • Suicide: references due to Romeo and Juliet
  • Weapon Use: prop weapons used in the play



  • Acceptance
  • Education
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Growing Up
  • Honesty
  • Identity
  • Romantic Love



Main Character 2
Subcast 2
Setting Development 2
Exploration of Conflict 2
Satisfying Resolution 2
Consideration of Themes 2
Didactic Tone 2
Suspension of Disbelief 1
Imagery and Description 2
Compelling Storytelling 2
Author’s Style 2
Rhythm and Pace of Book 2
Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 2
Predictability 1
Reader Enjoyment 2
Total 28/30


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