I first read this book a few years ago, but right around when Lois Leveen’s story met with Shakespeare’s version, I had to return it to the library, unfinished. I considered buying myself a copy, but it just never happened, plus adult books are more expensive than YA books for some reason so if I have money to spend at the bookstore, I don’t typically go to the adult section. Finally, years later, I got myself the library copy again, and read it all the way through.
Juliet’s Nurse is the story of, well, the Nurse from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The story takes place over fourteen years, from the day the nurse gives birth to the end of the events in Shakespeare’s play, and develops Verona and its inhabitants and events beyond the restrictions of iambic pentameter. I love a good historical fiction and it’s one of the genres I tend to go to adult novels for over YA, plus I like Shakespeare and like many others, I read Romeo and Juliet in high school English class.
I loved the development of Angelica, Juliet’s nurse, and the look of her life in 1400s Verona. There were a couple of things in the book that would be Not Okay At All today, for example, Angelica meeting her husband required a lot of benefit of the doubt. Outside of that memory Angelica brings up a few times, he’s a marvellous character and a great addition to the story. Reading about Tybalt as a kid was also one of my favourite things and developments of the play’s known characters like that one only added to the centuries-old play.
I also appreciated having a more understandable explanation about the events that led up to the beginning of the play and it was good to see everything happen rather than mentioned in passing in the characters’ dialogue. Leveen also added some great metaphors to the story as a whole. I enjoyed reading about the difference in hardships between classes, and I loved the development of the play’s characters combined with the history of events that led up to the beginning of the play. I didn’t mind at all that we all already know how the book ends.
It wouldn’t be fair, however, if I didn’t mention my biggest issue with the book: the transitions between Leveen’s own writing and the scenes from Shakespeare’s play were not smooth. Even though I’d read the play only one time, ten years ago, I could see where the scenes switched between Shakespeare and Leveen’s work, almost to the line. Not so hard to do when one’s written in modern prose and the other’s in iambic pentameter, though.
As far as faults go, that one was easy to get over. Shakespeare’s not such a bad writer himself, after all. This book wasn’t one of those life-changing, sobbing-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of stories, but it was enjoyable. If you like Shakespeare or historical fiction, this is a book you may want to take a look at.