Review: Juliet-reimagined


Photo credit: Emma Frank

“These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong has earned its title as a New York Times bestseller. It is a wonderful retelling of an old love story that we all know and love, but with a twist; now it is set in Shanghai and includes an Asian main character.

By Sydney Frank , Columnist

I remember walking into Barnes & Noble back in December and looking for a new book to read. Over quarantine, I picked up my old habit of reading quite literally anything I could get my hands on. I found myself venturing into the fantasy section, as a 16-year-old girl does. I skimmed the shelves, the golden titles seeming to jump out at me, each containing their own enchanting story. The book spines were all pressed up against each other, fighting to be the one picked out.

I stood there for quite a while until a book caught my eye. The title “These Violent Delights” popped out in gleaming silver letters. Where had I heard that before? I pulled out my phone and looked it up. Oh.

“These violent delights have violent ends,” “Romeo and Juliet,” Act II, Scene vi.

Of course, how could I forget the highlight of my eighth grade English class, watching Leonardo DeCaprio?

From the moment I picked the book off the shelf, the red rose, golden dragon and gleaming sword on the cover made me curious. I was hooked.

Chloe Gong’s debut novel, “These Violent Delights,” is a historical young adult novel with science fiction and fantasy elements, displaying an extraordinary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in 1920s Shanghai, the novel illustrates a city that has been divided by a blood feud between two gangs: the Scarletts and the White Flowers. It follows Juliette Kai, a former flapper and heiress to the Scarlett Gang, as well as Roma Montagov, heir of the White Flowers. Sometimes star-crossed lovers, sometimes mortal enemies, Roma and Juliette are forced to team up when whispers of a monster sweep the city, and people begin dying of a mysterious plague that causes them to rip out their own throats.

Gong masterfully takes Shakespeare’s most famous tale of young love and transforms it into her own. She weaves in notes of mystery, fantasy and romance into her engaging, fast-paced plot. Gong has the power to completely transport you to the streets of Shanghai, where you suddenly find yourself running alongside Juliette or dodging stray bullets. Her writing is addicting, and I appreciated how beautifully she was able to incorporate Asian culture into such a classic story.

I mean, who would have ever thought we could read about an Asian Juliet?

In an interview with Culturess, Gong said that Juliette is a source of “representation for Asian teens who are tired of being relegated to a stereotype while the YA (young adult) heroines who are admired never look like them.”

I find this extremely meaningful, especially as an Asian American teen myself, it was so exciting to finally read a book where I could relate to the main character, and see a form of representation for the Asian community that was not stereotypical or distasteful. Overall, this book was entertaining and so refreshing to read.

If you haven’t, run to your nearest bookstore.

What are you still doing here reading this? Go!

I highly recommend this book, not only because it is amazing, but because it is so important that we spread books with main characters and authors that are people of color.

Representation is a precious thing and shedding light on quality novels that are culturally and historically accurate is the least we can do to support people of color and minority groups. Removing the archetype of typical young adult heroines being strictly beautiful white women is essential because it will open up the world of literature.

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Writing Style

These Violent Delights Synopsis:

It’s 1926 in Shanghai. The city has been divided between two rival gangs: the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers.  Juliette Cai is a former flapper girl who’s returned from her time in America to reclaim her place as heiress to the Scarlet Gang. Roma Montagov is the mistreated and belittled heir of the White Flowers. When they were fifteen, Juliette and Roma defied the blood feud in a moment of mutual peace and fell in love. But things have changed. Now, an unknown plague has started to spread through Shanghai. A contagion, a madness, a monster – no one knows for sure, but only Juliette and Roma seem truly interested in finding the source of this disease decimating the gangs’ numbers. They begin a joint investigation, and tensions rise as old feelings resurface.