A queer retelling of Romeo & Juliet, except no one has to bury their gays.
A decades-old family rivalry is reaching a boiling point as the patriarchs vie for a seat in Congress. Democrat vs Republican, Muslim vs Christian, Hashmi vs Swain — the Midwestern town of Arbor Hills is one spark away from an explosion of violence. So when two men find themselves irresistibly drawn together at a party, only to discover they were born on opposite sides of a bloody battle line, Matthew Swain and Rabi Hashmi know they should leave well enough alone.
The pull between them is magnetic, though, and it’s too strong to ignore. Unable to resist, they meet again in secret. Generations of hatred can’t temper the passionate love growing between them, but two men falling for each other in the middle of a war zone can’t hold back the inevitable clash.
And when decades of political, religious, and personal strife finally come to a head, there will be blood.
Death scenes; Explicit sexual scenes; Blood; Gun violence; Queerphobia and slurs; Islamophobia;
I held out so much hope for Rabi and Matthew. I really, really wanted this to be something I could gush about and tell everyone to go read, because a queer Romeo & Juliet where the star-crossed lovers don’t meet a fatal ending? Damn, these marketers really know what the people want. It’s just a shame they didn’t actually give it to us.
I think what bothered me the most was the characters. Not a single one of them felt like a real person; they all felt like characters. I didn’t see any depth in any of them. We learn who Rabi and Matthew are based on their interactions with each other, and that’s it. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite it. Matthew has sooo much white guilt. He’s constantly apologizing without really doing anything and I kept cringing from second-hand embarrassment.
Outside of the title characters, we have Matthew’s friend Jude who’s the token black character. He pops up at convenient times to tell Matthew what’s up (including a point at the end of the book where Jude calls around the local motels looking to get a hold of Matthew?? How would that be effective in real life?) On Rabi’s end, he has his brother Eshaan, whose entire character is written to warn Rabi that the Swains and the Hashmis have this generations-long rivalry and he needs to stay away from Matthew.
Speaking of the rivalry, that’s what 90% of the book’s dialogue and narration is about. “But Ben, that’s what the book is about. Why are you being so ridiculous?” I’m glad you asked. It wouldn’t be so bad if the dialogue surrounding the absolute most major-est plot point wasn’t so repetitive. There was no back story to this rivalry. There is no progress in it (for better nor for worse) until the very end when both sides suddenly realize they should stop fighting because “Oh wait, shit, people I care about died. Let’s… back up.” I really hope this isn’t a metaphor for the US political system because oh my gosh, that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
I have one more very specific complaint before I cut myself off. (I could go on so much longer picking out what I didn’t like about Rabi and Matthew.) You could add the word count of both death scenes and it still wouldn’t equal to half as long as one of the sex scenes. I know it’s a romance, and I am certainly not complaining about the sex scenes’ present. BUT, if you’re creating a retelling of a tragedy, then your death and tragic scenes should be pretty strong, right? Well, these were almost laughably weak.
Although, I must say there have to be some redeemable qualities in this book. I’m just not sure how to explain them. Something kept me reading this even though I wanted to DNF it, set it down, and never think about it again. But no, this was a real trainwreck—I couldn’t look away as much as I wanted to. I’ve already complained about the writing, but the plot was also wild. It stays pretty true to the original plot, just with modern elements. Honestly, I was impressed by how much I could draw back to the original. Usually, retellings of works this old are so watered down, but Witt pulled actually pulled quite a few scenes from Shakespeare’s play.
Final thought: Witt was definitely going for a timely, political, queer romance with this one, but it really didn’t hit the mark. If that’s what you came here looking for, then go pick up Red, White, & Royal Blue instead. You can thank me later.