by Phoebe Stone
291 pages of family, codes, adventure and spies – perfect for intermediate and middle readers (Got to say – I don’t get the cover. It doesn’t make sense to me at all.)
You’re 11, living in London with your mom and dad. Your friends think they’re dashing and daring and glamorous – like a Hollywood couple. Perhaps, but all you know is that they are your everything. It’s 1941 though and there is a war going on. Your city is being bombed and most of your friends and their families have fled into the country. Your dad is an American citizen. His family is in Maine and so your family decides this is a safer place for you.
You sail across the ocean on the Queen Anne – painted entirely gray, portholes included so no light can escape giving her away to enemy eyes -, drive along the coast of Maine and meet Uncle Gideon, Aunt Florence and The Grams. After an hour or so you watch your dashing, daring, glamorous parents drive off, knowing they will be traveling back to London and there you are in your new home for now. Everything is different and strained.
That’s what happens to Felicity Bathburn Budwig in The Romeo and Juliet Code. The summer is beginning and everything seems bad and wrong. This new family seems angry with her Winnie and Danny (what she calls her mom and dad) and they won’t tell her why. On top of that her Danny writes letters to her uncle – she is sure of it though her uncle says she is wrong and doesn’t know his handwriting at all – but her Danny doesn’t write to her. Felicity doesn’t know where her mom and dad are. She is alone except for Wink, her bear, who does know how alone and sad and afraid she is.
With time Felicity learns about the Bathburns, her new family, and she comes to understand and love them. She discovers she loves to cook with The Grams and read with Aunt Miami (Florence decided she needed a younger sounding name – she’s just 22). Aunt Miami loves Romeo and Juliet. Felicity, on Uncle Gideon’s recommendation, reads The Little Princess. She discovers her cousin Derek, recovering from polio, and builds a strong relationship with him as they seek to uncover the mystery behind the letters sent to Uncle Gideon from Portugal, but written (Felicity is certain) by her Danny.
With every page I turned I longed for Felicity to get a letter from her mom and dad. I celebrated every comfort and every discovery made while I waited for her to find answers to her questions and solutions for her lonely confusions. You’ll be waiting for them too – filling with hope as she races to meet the postman, smiling at the variety show rehearsals, and feeling the coziness of a small town while you come to understand how Felicity fits in this place and how she will find a home there.
Perhaps the best thing about reading The Romeo and Juliet Code is knowing that Romeo Blue, the sequel, is sitting in my “to read” pile so I can spend more time with characters I love, in a place I would like to be, discovering more of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the Bathburn family. Reviews say the second book might be better than the first. I don’t know how that could be possible, but I’m looking forward to finding out.