Review & Author Interview: Waking Romeo by Kathryn Barker

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Waking Romeo by Kathryn Barker
Released: 1 March 2021
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 396
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
What if Juliet Capulet met someone who made her doubt true love? What if Wuthering Heights was a message to a time traveller? A cosmic reimagining of Romeo and Juliet and homage to two literary classics in a compelling novel about fate, love and time travel from an award-winning author. YEAR: 2083. LOCATION: LONDON. MISSION: WAKE ROMEO. It's the end of the world. Literally. Time travel is possible, but only forwards. And only a handful of families choose to remain in the 'now', living off the scraps that were left behind. Among these are eighteen-year-old Juliet and the love of her life, Romeo. But things are far from rosy for Jules. Romeo is in a coma and she's estranged from her friends and family, dealing with the very real fallout of their wild romance. Then a handsome time traveller, Ellis, arrives with an important mission that makes Jules question everything she knows about life and love. Can Jules wake Romeo and rewrite her future? A highly original mashup that delights as it disorients ... and asks what would have happened if two great literary love stories were somehow intertwined. 
Six years ago I read an amazing book by a debut Aussie Author - In the Skin of a Monster. This year Kathryn Barker is back with another equally captivating read, and wow did it deliver. I'm calling it - Waking Romeo is the most unique book I'm going to read this year! Full of mind-bending twists, super clever links to classic literature and a message on love and life that is both delicately and fiercely told, all I can say it. You won't be disappointed.

Author Interview with Kathryn Barker

Firstly, congratulations on another stunning release. In the Skin of a Monster has still stuck with me 6 years after reading it and Waking Romeo is just as captivating! How did the idea for this new book come about and what were your biggest motivators to release a second book?

Thanks so much for your kind words - I’m trilled that In the Skin of a Monster and Waking Romeo resonated with you! As for where the idea for Waking Romeo came from… I suppose it was from contemplating love stories and the romantic ideal. I read both Romeo & Juliet and Wuthering Heights when I was in high school, and (as a hopeless romantic) I was captivated by the love stories. But when I got older, I realised that the examples they set weren’t exactly healthy - especially when it came to the women. I wanted to deconstruct those two classics and imagine a story where the girl had more agency. 

As for my biggest motivators to release a second book… the simple truth is, I love writing. I also find that it helps me understand my truths, the world and my own experiences. 

Was there a particular person or influence in your life at the time of writing Waking Romeo which made a special contribution to your writing process for the book in any way?

Waking Romeo was written at a time when I was reconfiguring what love meant to me, and who I was as my own person. That experience clearly reflected in the perhaps the 'significant influence' was my own personal growth and revolution.

As a time travel novel, there are so many different plot points and significant moments which you've woven so cleverly together - what was it like writing a book with such an interconnected storyline that makes use of bending timelines?

It was a challenge! Getting the plot right was enormously tricky, especially since I didn’t want it to detract from the characterisation. Having said that the Universe is full of beautiful coincidences, and so often connections would just land in my lap. When that happened, it reinforced the feeling that I was on the right track, which was wonderful.

The characters in this book were so vividly portrayed, and I especially enjoyed how the classic literary references had influence in a way I've never seen before. What were some of the most challenging/enjoyable aspects of mixing genres in this way?

Thank you so much! I suppose the biggest challenge was finding the right balance between respecting the source text/ characterisation, while giving myself permission to explore something new without feeling constrained. The most enjoyable aspect was definitely getting to dip into Shakespeare and Bronte! Getting to incorporate some of their incredible words/ worlds/ characters into my story was such a gift. 

Without giving too much away, is there a particular quote or moment from the book which means a lot to you personally?

The final page of the book is my favourite, because it encapsulates both Jules' truth and my own.

For young and older readers alike picking up Waking Romeo, is there a particular message to think about you hope they can gain from it? For me, it was definitely the focus on living each moment fully and appreciating the present, while also gaining insights on how to build on a better future.

Yes - investing in the ’now’ (rather than focusing on the past or on the future) is a big one for me too, as is caring for our environment. However, I think one of the core themes that underpins Waking Romeo is the idea of challenging romantic ideals and our concept of what love is. I hope to give readers the space to consider the ‘epic romances’ in stories like Romeo & Juliet and Wuthering Heights and think about how that stacks up against more modern ideals. 

Is there anything you can share with us on what you're currently working on/doing outside of writing?

With Waking Romeo, I really enjoyed delving into classic works of literature and then finding an angle for a modern retelling. I’m working on a new story which explores that territory again…  but the threads haven’t woven themselves together enough yet for me to explain it coherently! 

As for what I’m doing outside of writing… I’m planning a camping trip, because I want to sleep under the stars!


About the author

Kathryn Barker was born in Canberra, started primary school in Tokyo and finished high school in the woods outside Olympia, Washington State. In the years that followed she went to university, became a lawyer, completed her masters in film production and worked in television. She currently lives in Sydney with her family. Kathryn's first novel, In the Skin of a Monster, was published to high acclaim and won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, was short-listed for two Davitt Awards and was a CBCA Notable Book. Waking Romeo is her second novel.