We’ve all gone through the works of the Bard in school, especially Romeo and Juliet. And we’ve all seen a plethora of modern adaptations of (what honestly is) this timeless, pertinent masterpiece…frequently wondering what it has to do with us and now. I have met a lot of young people who would argue its’ relevance (and argue for it, I do.) But this YA novel brings something different to the table; something fresh and something….well, a little weird and wonderful. Let’s take a look….
JULES and ROM
author: Pete Mullineaux
cover illustration: Dave Hill
Matador (9 March 2021)
The year is 2040; and life has gone through quite a bit of change. Environmental issues, social disorder and rapidly increasing technological advancement has left its’ mark in dramatic and intriguing ways. The placement of androids in every sector of society has had its’ impact; both beneficial and troublesome. But perhaps it can be seen most profoundly in schools.
Kerry Tracker is a newly qualified teacher, called to a US high school to teach the 10th grade English students; more specifically to manage their production of Romeo and Juliet. The previous android teacher had an emotional meltdown, caused by the kids in the cast who, with unbridled glee, just wanted to see how far they could push it. The ringleader of this seemingly minor rebel uprising, is 15-year-old Harper, a privileged little madam who will suffer no consequences due to her fathers’ position. And there are many human staff at the school who have “issues” with the android staff, causing further disruption in its’ smooth running. It seems some things never change… As Kerry struggles to impart the importance of what they’re doing and lead the kids in the production, the situation escalates from typical teenage ructions to something dark and dangerous in short order. A suspicious death in the school. Special agent Floyd Linton from Homeland Security is called in to investigate the murder. Against the backdrop of Shakespeares’ most familiar play; the story of young love, tragedy and family division enters the brave and confusing new world of the future, besieged by political intrigue and social turmoil, as humans and androids discover themselves and each other, and what each are capable of.
Jules and Rom certainly packs a punch as it tackles themes of young love, AI emotional intelligence, political and social disruption, fear, prejudice and the consequences of our actions. There is much to consider here, but it is given with a subtle creative hand. The plot itself remains relatively true to the Shakespeare tragedy and allows the reader to view it with new, timely eyes. While it is a future-based, speculative work, much of what happens is very familiar and applicable to the present day (which is what the best of speculative fiction is about, really.) The characters are wonderfully written. Each human character is quite recognisable; we all know people like them; we understand their motivation and how they work. But the androids cause a lot of intrigue in the mind of the reader. We begin to wonder and examine their thoughts and feelings; we consider the possibilities within AI creation. And through this, how we define what it means to be human. None of this is ponderous, however. It flows and sneaks in at the margins while we find ourselves absorbed in a tale that is fascinating, gripping and really innovative.
I have known Pete Mullineaux for quite a number of years now, watching him work with children and present poetry and theatre in a way that is always accessible, enthusiastic and timely. He has a gift for knowing how to give children, regardless of their age or ability a view that speaks directly to them, bringing understanding and more importantly…Pete listens to them.
Pete has another book out at the moment; a resource that merges teaching drama to young people with an increasing awareness of environmentalism, climate change and creating a more sustainable development. If you work with young people in schools, drama groups or youth centres, or if you want to bring a greater level of creativity into your home, this is the book you need. Covering a list of sustainable goals, there are eight chapters; or rather, eight projects addressing a range of concerns, interlinking them and approaching through creativity and drama; bringing a huge amount of knowledge, understanding and excitement into the efforts of building a more sustainable world. And isn’t that exactly what we all need.
Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals the Drama for All Ages
author: Pete Mullineaux
published by Afri (2021)
Interdependence Day! Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals through Drama is published by Afri (Action from Ireland ) and was funded as a lockdown project by Irish Aid through WorldWise Global Schools. From more information about Afri, follow the link: https://www.afri.ie/
And if you would like to learn more about the amazing Pete Mullineaux and his projects and books; here’s his link on WordPress: https://petemullineauxwriter.wordpress.com/