It’s the rare book that will make a variety of readers unexpectedly laugh out loud. But when you do find one, it’s a book to treasure. The Vicar of Nibbleswicke and The BFG always make me laugh, (especially the chapter called Frobscotters and Whizzpoppers in The BFG. I challenge anyone to read that aloud without completely cracking up.) Actually, most Roald Dahl books have a few LOL chapters! There are moments with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins that make me chuckle, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Fudge-a-Mania always make me grin foolishly. But nothing has ever caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud (in my dentist’s office, no less!) than Romeo and Juliet Together (and alive!) At Last, by Avi.
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Peter Saltz likes Anabell Stackpoole. It’s a new thing (only two days old, in fact) but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s in love. Ed Sitrow has been Peter’s best friend for forever, and when Peter confesses his love to Ed, Ed knows he has to do something to get them together. The idea hits him in English class, where they’re studying Shakespeare.
Have Peter and Anabell act out the greatest love story of all time: Romeo and Juliet.
Ed gets together his friends Hays, Radosh and Lucy, then asks Priscilla Black to join them because she’s Anabell’s best friend. Hamilton, the kind of obnoxious kid every class has, overhears their “secret meeting” and manages to butt his way into the group. Together, Ed and his friends decide that the best way to get Saltz and Stackpoole together is to put on a play of Romeo and Juliet, with Peter and Anabell in the starring roles. It will be a lot of work, but for Saltz, they’re willing to do it. They figure they can get costumes, build some sets, write an abridged script and have enough after school rehearsals in to present a polished performance in, well…two weeks. Their teachers seem a little doubtful that they can pull it off, but the kids know they can do it. Of course, they still have to talk Peter and Anabell into the lead roles. And come up with the costumes. And the script and sets. And find time for rehearsals.
Between sets that feature ice-covered log cabins, fight scenes between mortal (for middle school, anyway) enemies, wobbly balconies and extremely shy lead actors (who know they’ll have to, eventually, kiss) the production is soon underway. Nobody quite knows what is going to happen, but it will definitely be THE most memorable production of Romeo and Juliet ever put on by an eighth grade class!
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Romeo and Juliet Together (and alive!) At Last is the sequel to S.O.R. Losers, which is also about Ed and Peter…and their not-so-winning soccer team. You don’t need to read that book to enjoy this one, but S.O.R. Losers is another Old Favorite which is definitely worth reading.
I loved Romeo and Juliet Together (and alive!) At Last when I first read it (and laughed in the dentist’s office) and each and every time I’ve read it again since then. Avi has the voice of his eighth-grade characters down pat, as well as their well-meant but bumbling efforts as matchmakers, playwrights, actors and stuntmen. If you know Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, it adds an extra element of fun to the book, but it’s not necessary. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least one time, and probably throughout the whole performance of the play.
When I read this book, it made me wish that I had friends like Ed and Lucy and even Hamilton when I was in middle school. Even if their efforts didn’t produce exactly the result they were intending, they certainly made an impression on everyone involved.
I often wish Avi had written a few more books featuring the kids at the S.O.R Middle School, but instead he went on to win several notable children’s literature prizes with other books instead, like Newbery Honors for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth, as well as a Newbery Medal for Crispin: The Cross of Lead. I guess he can’t be faulted for that! Still, if he’d like to revisit Saltz, Sitrow, Stackpoole and the other kids of S.O.R. Middle School, I’d be cheering!
Romeo and Juliet Together (and alive!) At Last is a short book…only 123 pages. It features eighth graders, but the story is accessible to kids in fifth grade and up. And anyone who has ever loved Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet seriously owes it to themselves to read this book.
(and let me know if you laughed out loud too.)