Shakespeare meets Shanghai in this Romeo and Juliet retelling with a monstrous twist. Chloe Gong modernizes a familiar, yet different, plot sequence, with relevant characters and battles against colonialism, while honoring classical themes: love, hate, and loyalty. Roma and Juliette align to fight a monster, while navigating the dangers of a blood feud, gangster-run Shanghai, and foreign powers. As heirs to the competing gangs, Roma and Juliette have the most to lose and the stakes have never been higher.
Juliette returns from America to find that the life she once knew has changed and she struggles to redefine herself within Shanghai. Her loyalty to the Scarlet Gang is tested against the disputing territories quickly rising to power: rival gangs, communists, and colonizers. Tensions rise as she is forced to collaborate with her former lover, Roma of the White Flowers.
Gong paves the way for YA representation and creates authenticity by normalizing diverse characters, each with a unique perspective. In the story’s web, intertwined with queer and cultural identities, readers discover the Scarlet Gang are Chinese, while The White Flowers are primarily Russian. Sparks emerge between same-sex characters and readers discover that one gang member identifies as transgender.
Readers assume the antagonist is the monster who has released a plague of madness on Shanghai. However, Gong uses the monster-hunt trope to highlight who the real enemy is: each other. Two lovers and liars must put aside their differences, and convince others to do the same, before it is too late. Readers are left with a disastrous ending, where competing territories turn on each other and release the real monsters into Shanghai.
“Men are sometimes masters of their own fates.” —Shakespeare
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. Margaret K. McElderry Books, November 2020.
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