Sharon Draper's Romiette and Julio in many ways follows the plot of the musical West Side Story, transposing Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers from warring families to a modern setting in which the opposing factions are teen gangs with different ethnicities.
In the story, the two young lovers are from different ethnic backgrounds, with Romi being from an African-American and Julio from a Mexican-American family. Despite their different cultural backgrounds, they fall in love with one another. What makes the relationship work is that rather than just physical attraction, they are good friends who enjoy talking with one another and encourage each other's interests and career aspirations. As well as the main couple, we also encounter Destiny and Ben, another pairing based on intellectual and character affinities.
One of the major features of the inter-ethnic relationships in the book is that they serve to broaden the teens' worlds, helping them mature and understand culture traditions outside their own, and giving them an understanding of how one should value people for themselves, rather than as the gangs do, only for their ethnic background. The novel suggests that friendships and romantic relationship can bridge the ethnic divides that encourage the tribalism that gives rise to gangs.