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R & J: Then & Now

Rebecca Serle, author of the August FYA book club selection When You Were Mine, dishes on giving up her Leo DiCaprio fantasy for the real thing.

R & J: Then & Now

This August, FYA book clubs across the country (and the world!) are reading When You Were Mine, a contemporary re-telling of Romeo and Juliet through the eyes of Rosaline, the girl Romeo dumped for Juliet. Not only is the book fantastic, the author herself is a marvelous gal beloved by everyone at FYA HQ (even though she favors Brian Krakow over Jordan Catalano). You may remember Rebecca Serle from her Smarty Pants posts with fellow author and fabulous individual Leila Sales, and she's here today to give you a little insight into her idea of a real love story.

I never read Romeo and Juliet in High School, but I loved the movie. Odd coming from an author—particularly one who would eventually come to retell the tale-- but it’s true. Leonardo Dicaprio was my ultimate--- the living, breathing fantasy of Romeo incarnate. I’ll confess something here: my most prized possession from my adolescence was an autograph of his I received for my bat mitzvah. It read: “Dear Rebecca. Congratulations! Love, Leo.” I nearly dropped dead on the dance floor when my parents handed it to me.

Romeo and Juliet, to me, was the definitive love story. I swooned when Leo scaled the walls of Claire Danes’ home. I cried when they missed an eternity together by mere moments. But their love was pure, true. If life hadn’t of gotten in the way it would have been forever.


When I sat down to write When You Were Mine it was important to me to figure out how we as a society conceive of Romeo and Juliet. When we think of the play, what comes to mind? Is it the ultimate love story? Is it the original from which all others spring?

In college I finally came to the play. It was for a class appropriately entitled “Love And The Classics.” Romeo and Juliet was our first read.

Eight years later, things were a bit different. I saw more of the warning signs. I paid attention to the details. It was romantic, sure, but gone was the breathlessness that story used to inspire. I didn’t think much of it, but then again, why would I? We didn’t watch the Baz Luhrman version. We moved on to Bronte fairly quickly.

Let’s jump ahead four more years. It’s 2009 and I’m now 23, and living in New York. I’ve just had my heart really, truly broken for the first time by someone I’m still crazy about--- I mean crazy in every single sense of the word. I’m miserable, and alone. I’m in a strange in-between--- longing for lost love and hating it all the same. My Romeo has departed except I’m not dead--- it only feels like it. Then one cold, winter night Rosaline pops into my head, and life begins to change.

Do I think less of Romeo because he dropped Rosaline in a hot second for Juliet? Maybe, but that’s not really the point. The point is that these lovers were fourteen. There is a reason this story spoke to me in that ballroom on my thirteenth birthday so many years ago—it was written for me.

Let me take a moment to say I am an extreme romantic at heart. Despite having five New York years under my belt I would hardly call myself cynical. But I have also realized, moving into my adult years, that love is important--- the most important thing—but it’s also not all you need. And real love, lasting love, has a solid foundation. Family. Friends. Shared interests. Respect. Selflessness.

Calm. Steady.

When I think about ultimate love, now, I don’t think about crazy, insane, can’t eat can’t sleep obsession. That was fun while it lasted, but it always ended in heartbreak. It didn’t make me feel stable, it made me feel, well, crazy. It made me feel lost, too, the kind of lost that allows you to fall into another person and try to find yourself there.

But I was never there. I was always here.

Romeo and Juliet didn’t get to grow up. Maybe if they had their love would have fizzled. Maybe they would have grown up and realized they wanted to be with someone their family would welcome. That their kids needed grandparents. I don’t know, but to me that’s the point. How many of us, as adults, gaze upon that first massive, wild love and think what if? How many of us wonder how things might have turned out had circumstances just been a little bit different? And then: how many of us thank our lucky stars that they weren’t?

Life is about forward. About growth. It might not always inspire blinding fireworks, but it’s real. And that is better than any fantasy. Leo included.