Teach the Torches to Burn by Caleb Roehrig: Lyrical and Hopeful Retelling

In the Remixed Classics series, authors from marginalized backgrounds reinterpret classic works through their own cultural lens to subvert the overwhelming cishet, white, and male canon. Queer star-crossed love amid a centuries-old feud takes center stage in this Romeo & Juliet remix that knows sometimes, the best way is to make it gay.

Verona, Italy. Seventeen-year-old aspiring artist Romeo dreams of a quiet life with someone who loves him just as he is. But as the heir to the Montague family, he is expected to give up his “womanly” artistic pursuits and uphold the family honor―particularly in their centuries-old blood feud with a rival family, the Capulets. Worse still, he is also expected to marry a well-bred girl approved by his parents and produce heirs. But the more Romeo is forced to mingle with eligible maidens, the harder it is to keep his deepest secret: He only feels attracted to other boys.

In an attempt to forget his troubles for just one night, Romeo joins his cousin in sneaking into a Capulet party. During a fateful encounter in the garden, he meets the kindest, most beautiful boy he’s ever met, and is shocked to learn he’s Valentine, the younger brother of one of his closest friends. He is even more shocked to discover that Valentine is just as enamored with Romeo as Romeo is with him.

So begins a tender romance that the boys must hide from their families and friends, each of them longing for a world where they could be together without fear. And as the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets escalates out of control, Romeo and Valentine find themselves in danger of losing each other forever―if not by society’s scorn, then by the edge of a blade.

“Teach the Torches to Burn” by Caleb Roehrig is a lyrical and hopeful retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story. In reweaving this tale, Caleb Roehrig has created something both beautiful and mesmerizing. The language is gorgeous, like poetry, creating visual imagery that is stunning. As I read this novel, I also found Romeo a far more compelling character than in the original, an artist with a sensitive soul. Valentine as his romantic interest is strong and vibrant as well. It is a wonderful twist on the play creating a story of resilience, found family, trust and love. 

As well as the passion that is sensuous and lovely, I found the secondary characters as fascinating as Romeo and Valentine. Juliet in this tale is far more dynamic and strong, willing to take on a far more active role in the story. Benvolio and Mercutio are wonderful. I love how much of a rogue Benvolio is but also how accepting he is of his cousin. Mercutio is far more complex and charismatic. They add to the novel, helping with the theme of found family. 

The resolution is hopeful in this story which I absolutely love, the change from tragedy and cautionary tale, to one of hope and love. If you love stories that are lyrical and hopeful, I highly recommend this lovely retelling of Romeo and Juliet, a story that features characters far more interesting than even the original play. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 fights.

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