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While many readers view Sharon Draper's Romiette and Julio as simply a modern twist on Shakespeare's classic play, Draper chooses to use the age-old tension between teenagers and their parents as a backdrop for a host of other contemporary complexities. In addition to focusing on Romi's struggle to gain a semblance of independence from her parents, Draper also chooses to create characters from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to demonstrate that while feuding families might not be such a huge problem in modern cultures, social class prejudice, ethnic clashes, and gang threats still plague many families and cultures. Romi comes from an upper class, well-respected family while Julio is an outsider fighting pressure from a local gang called the Devildogs.
Unlike Shakespeare's title characters, Draper's Romi and Julio win over their parents fairly quickly in the novel--the hatred which exists between the original Capulets and Montagues does not replicate itself for the Cappelles and Montagues, but outside forces play a more significant role in ultimately causing peril for the young lovers. After several harrowing events near the novel's conclusion, Romi's news-anchor father best sums up Draper's primary purpose in recreating Shakespeare's play. On the air, Cornell Cappelle gratefully announces:
Let me thank our new friends, the Montagues, and our many other friends who helped in the rescue effort. It shows what a community can do when it cares about its young people (Draper 316).
Unlike the grisly ending of Romeo and Juliet which results largely from parents using their children as pawns in a dangerous rivalry, Draper's Romiette and Julio demonstrates that when adults--and a community in general--put aside ethnic prejudices and socioeconomic differences to concentrate on fostering safe environments for young people, lives and futures can be rescued.
Although Draper's book was first published in 1999, it could not be more timely. With the recent rise in gang violence in cities such as Chicago and Romi's hometown of Cincinnati, the author seems to advocate that citizens and the media play a primary role in rescuing their cities and young people from outside negative influences.
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