Emily May's Reviews > When You Were Mine

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle
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May 04, 12

bookshelves: young-adult, romance, arc, 2012, wtf-sexism, bloody-awful
Read from April 24 to 25, 2012



This book is a real snarkfest, in fact I kind of wish someone other than me was reviewing this right now, I have a good many friends who could really go to town on this one. The author successfully manages to be sexist to both men and women, indulge in a bout of slut-shaming, and completely miss the point.

I actually really like Shakespeare most of the time, but I think that Romeo and Juliet is one of his weakest works - or one of my least favourites, anyway. The greatest love story of all time? This isn't even the greatest love story that Shakespeare wrote. Let's be honest and admit that Romeo and Juliet is actually about two horny and shallow teenagers who set eyes on one another and fall into a pit of emo melodrama. You can probably tell I don't believe in love at first sight, well, I just like to think that love relies on something more than physical appearance. And, of course, behind all this is the story of Romeo's ex - Rosaline - who gets completely forgotten in one moment of overenthusiastic lust that is blown way out of proportion.

So I picked up When You Were Mine with the very honest intention of feeling sorry for poor Rosaline who gets cast aside like an old rag. In the play she is not even viewed as a human being in the way she is so easily written out of Romeo's life. I was totally prepared for sadness, angst, even some anger towards Romeo... and this could have been achieved without a single problem if only Ms Serle had not decided to turn this story (and the blame) around onto Juliet. Because in this book, Juliet is the evil, boyfriend-stealing whore and Rob (Romeo) is just a chess piece, without reason or motivation, who is completely at the mercy of Juliet's seduction.

No, no, no! This is not how it happens. If you are in a relationship with someone and that person cheats on you it is their fault. They are the unfaithful ones, the ones who've betrayed your trust and gone behind your back, not the person they cheated on you with. Unless Rohypnol has somehow come into play, nobody is "at the mercy of" someone else's seductions, because they always still have a choice. Serle should have focused this story on Rosaline's emotions of being betrayed, of finding out that the perfect life you thought you had all sorted can go wrong. She didn't. She was too busy making Juliet a bitch.

Everything about Juliet from her mannerisms and the way she talks to the way she looks is supposed to make the reader dislike her. She has blonde hair: "the kind Charlie calls 'prescription strength', meaning you need serious chemical help to achieve it". Obviously Juliet is an evil slut because she even dyes her hair blonde. Shameful. Rosaline, on the other hand, frequently describes herself as plain, but she is intelligent. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but Juliet is supposed to be there to make Rosaline look better, she is the ditzy blonde bitch so Rosaline can be the nicey-nicey girl next door. Personally, I found it rather sickening.

Also, there's a heavy dose of casual slut-shaming flying around in the novel and it isn't limited to Juliet. For example:

"Charlie says there's a difference between being a slut and being slutty. She thinks Olivia was slutty for hooking up with the Belgian, but she would never call her a slut. Her theory is that the distinction is between how you act and who you are. Olivia's was an action, whereas Darcy's is a defining quality."

Hear that girls? Being a slut is a defining quality. I just don't know what to say to this crap anymore, this is 2012, will the attack on female sexuality ever end?

If you need any more convincing that Juliet is given all the blame and innocent Rob has supposedly been manipulated by her, I have to mention the part in the story where Rob punches another boy in the face and Juliet's effect on him is brought up again: "It all goes back to her. Rob was totally sane until she came around. Now he's picking fights, ditching his friends, and not talking to his parents." This is what I mean about the sexim extending to both genders, Juliet's the whore who got her claws into someone else's boyfriend, and Rob is completely incapable of making his own decisions, he is the tool by which evil Juliet can carry out her despicable plan. It's all bullshit.

I liked the idea of this book so much. Rosaline is one of history's characters that I've always believed had a great and emotional story to tell. I still think she does, but unfortunately When You Were Mine is not it.
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Comments (showing 1-48 of 48) (48 new)

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Aly (Fantasy4eva) ok. you gotta update me on how this is. if it's good I'll give it a shot.


Emily May will do :)


message 3: by Lexxie (new)

Lexxie oh my... it's sad when books really don't live up to our expectations!


Aly (Fantasy4eva) oh man. and here i was really hoping this would be good.
sure know what i won't be reading next.


Emily May Normally I would say you never know, this might be more your thing... but I can't even manage that, it was really bad :(


message 6: by Giselle (new) - added it

Giselle *barf*


message 7: by Alyssa (new) - added it

Alyssa Well broken-down review, Emily :)


Emily May Thanks Alyssa :)

@Paige It seems like every other YA book I read has some kind of slut-shaming in it. I find it so sad and infuriating that women are writing this kind of crap for other women, how will the next generation (or the one after that) ever eradicate slut-shaming if we're constantly handing it down to them through books and movies?


message 9: by Lexie (new)

Lexie I think I will probably shoot myself in the head before reading this book. After all the reviews I've seen . . . just. No. I would probably end up throwing it at someone.


message 10: by Elle (new)

Elle pfft i believe R&J is one of his best tragedies, not love stories! I'll be avoiding this.


message 11: by Laira Jhamille (new)

Laira Jhamille Oh, I'm planning to buy this book but based on your review. It's a big NO NO! Thanks Emily :)


Emily May No problem :)


message 13: by Reynje (new)

Reynje Ugh. I share you thoughts on R&J and this review is brilliant. Definitely not one for me..


Emily May Thanks Rey. And yeah, I'm pretty sure you'd hate this as much as I did.


message 15: by Megan (new)

Megan Wow, I got kind of pissed off just reading your review! Thanks for the advice to stay far, far away from this one.


message 17: by Jasprit (new)

Jasprit Brilliant review Emily, I was actually going to read this one, but knowing it didn't work out for you I'm going to skip it! :)


Emily May Thanks Jasprit :)


message 19: by Maggie (new) - added it

Maggie Ian -- YES! I was totally thinking of the Cyndi Lauper song when I heard the title.

Emily -- Great review. I was just at Barnes & Noble and flipped through this book, but I was so put off by the blurb on the back. Juliet, who does this... Juliet, who does that... What is this, Rosaline's Burn Book?


Emily May Thanks Maggie. It definitely was Rosaline's Burn Book, I could tell straight away that I was going to have some issues with the direction of the blame, but I never imagined the extent to which the book would offend me. I hate that the author thought this would be a good idea :/


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim Great review, Emily. The book sounds awful, and I too am mystified by the trend...

"Hear that girls? Being a slut is a defining quality. I just don't know what to say to this crap anymore, this is 2012, will the attack on female sexuality ever end?

Will it, indeed.. A female author here, a male author there. I would just like some sort of intellectual handle on why this is happening.

In the U.S., there is a major swing toward 'conservatism' with a centuries-old flavor. Feminists be gone. But it isn't that simple, and to me it is a very strange brew, really difficult to define. But the term 'war on women' is in common use here, and appropriately so in my view.

I have some understanding of how that can happen in the U.S. What I don't get, at all, is how slut-shaming can be good for any positive agenda, anywhere - especially for female authors. Except, of course, for the bank account of the best-selling author.

Is there more to it? Or is it as pathetically simple as that? That is what I would like to understand.


Emily May Personally, I don't think the majority of slut-shaming today is agenda-pushing. Rather, I think it's a deeply-ingrained attitude towards female sexuality - the idea that it is unattractive, immoral, unacceptable for a woman to be "too sexual". I don't think Rebecca Serle sat down to write this book and decided to thrust her sexual values on her readers; she was trying to create an unlikeable character and, for her, overt sexuality in a female character is negative.

I just wish so many female authors would wake up and see the detrimental effect they are having on girls in the next generation. They are telling them their sexuality is something to be ashamed of and making it okay to judge other girls on their sexual behaviour/way they dress/etc.

Slut-shaming is not as big of an issue in the UK. For example, Story of a Girl (which is set in the US) features a young girl who becomes a social outcast for having underage sex. This would not happen where I come from, there may be a few raised eyebrows but it wouldn't be like the world has turned against her. Though, because of the size of the US and the amount of literature that comes out of it, I find myself mostly reading books by American authors and the conservatism of some of them is frightening.


message 23: by Jim (new)

Jim Thank you very much for those perspectives, Emily. Very much appreciated, and I can make a lot more sense of the situation from that point of view.

I too am extremely concerned about the long-term effects of these trends. In the U.S., what I see is an obvious trend to glorify 'manly' behavior in men and boys, and an even more obvious trend to regard women as fantasy objects that complete the 'manly' image. From where I sit, it seems that girls and women are getting a clear message - their role is to serve as those fantasy objects, and the competition for male attention is not just proper, but a priority goal for them.

I may be wrong about any or all of this, and I am not sure how well that vision fits with the deeply-ingrained attitude you discussed. It may fit perfectly, if the idea is that women should be extremely attractive and should fawn over men, but should not be overtly sexual because that is too selfish of them. In other words, it is all about men.

If any of that is true, it is deeply offensive to me and to many other men. And I would think it is completely unacceptable to nearly all women. Not to mention, completely wrong by any objective standard.


message 24: by Megan (new)

Megan Jim wrote: "...If any of that is true, it is deeply offensive to me and to many other men. And I would think it is completely unacceptable to nearly all women. Not to mention, completely wrong by any objective standard."

I think a lot of these negative attitudes towards women actually come from other women. Sad that in an age where women are gaining so much equality with men, we are now becoming our own worst enemy.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim Megan wrote: "I think a lot of these negative attitudes towards women actually come from other women. Sad that in an age where women are gaining so much equality with men, we are now becoming our own worst enemy. "

Thanks very much for the comment, Megan. I have gotten the same impression, and this is the part that I find so perplexing, on multiple levels. I really just don't get it.

If you completely ignore the gender issues - just look at how a person can do well in life and be happy and fulfilled - a positive self-image is a huge part of all of that. Role models are extremely important for that. How did we get to a point where so many books are based on despicable characters who are, somehow, irresistible?!

If I understand this book and Emily's review correctly, Rosaline is the sympathetic character, but a lot of that is based on the fact that she is a loser. Juliet is basically just evil, and Rob is a clueless victim. I hope I got that right.

If I did, I just don't see a winner here. No one to really care about, no sense of 'felt life' that is positive. No way forward. That is really sad.


message 26: by Megan (last edited Apr 28, 2012 10:44AM) (new)

Megan But it's not just in books; it is also prevalent throughout movies, tv, etc. The blonde bitch, the bullying cheerleader, the asexual studious nerd... these stereotypes are found everywhere and perpetuated by women.

I've never read this book either (and thanks to Emily's review I won't) but so very many YA's geared towards girls feature a sympathetic main character who isn't popular and doesn't have many friends...at some point in the book she will be confronted by a mean girl who is almost always blonde, attractive and popular. This mean girl always uses her sexuality to get what she wants and is usually a cheerleader as well. Of course you poor guys are usually clueless to how mean the mean girl is. Main character will always win the guy over in the end because of her sweetness and purity but the guy still never sees the mean girl as a mean girl.

It is so sad. But look at how much women love to hate other women. Even casual statements like, "She is so skinny, I hate her!" Why? Where does that come from? The need to turn jealousy and perhaps admiration into hate?

Women love to stigmatize Paris Hilton as a dumb whore, but how dumb is she really when she has built up an entire lucrative brand around her name? When she is famous for simply being herself? And is she really a whore? Does't she always have a boyfriend? Using her sexuality got her famous, but women hate her for it. I'm not a fan of hers and don't seek out information about her ~ yet it is everywhere because women love to hate on other women.


message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim Megan wrote: "But it's not just in books; it is also prevalent throughout movies, tv, etc. The blonde bitch, the bullying cheerleader, the asexual studious nerd... these stereotypes are found everywhere and perpetuated by women."

Very well said, Megan. My experience with YA books is pretty limited, but has been very positive because I rely heavily on recommendations from friends who really know the good stuff. I am very appreciative of Emily and others who read the ARCs and put out the warnings for those 'other' books. When I read reviews like this one, I just shake my head.

I am certainly no psychiatrist, but I have done enough teaching and training to draw some pretty major conclusions from my experience. One example - students do much better when they have confidence in themselves. It's not rocket science, this idea, and it isn't difficult from a teaching standpoint to help instill that confidence by staying positive with students. I just don't understand the upside of pushing the negatives.

A second example - women who know they are smart, and don't shrink from that, are incredibly productive and typically much easier to work with than 'comparably' intelligent men. This really surprised me at first, because I didn't think there would be any gender difference that was significant.

Well, I see a big difference - so it isn't just that women are equal. When the playing field is level, women are simply better than men - in the vast majority of intellectually demanding tasks that I have taught or trained students for.

So the stereotypes are simply baffling to me - they run completely counter to my life and career experience. I just can't fit those two sets of concepts into one mental framework...


message 28: by [Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] (last edited Apr 29, 2012 03:12PM) (new)

[Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] Good YA books for girls: "Sabriel" by Garth Nix. Any of Terry Pratchett's "Tiffany Aching" books. "The Blue Sword" & "The Hero And The Crown" by Robin McKinley. Books with confident, capable female protagonists.


message 29: by Jim (new)

Jim Thanks, Ian! I appreciate the recommendations.


message 30: by Steph (new)

Steph Sinclair Geez, so stay far away from this one. Sounds like a book that would anger me. Great review!


message 31: by Jim (new)

Jim My thinking exactly, Stephanie!


message 32: by Brandy (new)

Brandy Wow. This sounds like a book that I would hate with a passion. Romeo and Juliet are highly overrated. I loved your review however.


Emily May Thanks Stephanie and Brandy!


message 34: by TG (new) - rated it 3 stars

TG "Women love to stigmatize Paris Hilton as a dumb whore, but how dumb is she really when she has built up an entire lucrative brand around her name? When she is famous for simply being herself? And is she really a whore? Does't she always have a boyfriend? Using her sexuality got her famous, but women hate her for it."

As a woman who hates Paris Hilton, I strongly object to this explanation for it. Paris Hilton is a racist who's been caught on tape calling black people the N word, she's often made nasty remarks about the appearance - and the sex life - of other women and she's driven drunk numerous times, endangering lives. Jessica Simpson and Kendra Wilkinson are also blondes not known for their mental capabilities, who have used their sexuality and they are well-liked.

Regarding the book, I'm going to read it, although I'm wary of a book that makes Juliet the bad guy. The extract you (meaning Emily May) quoted doesn't bother me as it seems to be a character's PoV and that doesn't mean it's the author's. I'll have to see how the rest of the book plays out.


[Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] Frankly I don't think it's ever appropriate to use terms like "whore" or "slut" or even "cunt" to insult a woman one doesn't like. And yet, it seems to be part-and-parcel of EVERYONE'S armory -- even feminists. It's depressing.

Then again, I'm a man so I am (by virtue of my genitals & chromosomes) an enemy to women everywhere. Or that's what my undergraduate Women's Studies classes taught me anyway. :P


Emily May @TG The slut-shaming was a character's POV - the main character who we are supposed to feel sorry for. If it had been said by someone we were not supposed to like, it would have read differently. Also, it is the author's POV that Juliet was an overtly sexual bitch and Romeo was a victim of female sexuality. Just a few thoughts, but perhaps you'll take something different from the book.

@Ian Please tell me you were only joking with that second part about your WS classes? If not, I guess it just proves my point that it's hard to have sexism towards one gender without having it towards the other. Also, someone who is really a feminist cares about equality between men and women, don't be fooled by those throwing around the word "slut" or hating men, it's these stupid people who have made feminism into a dirty word.


message 37: by TG (new) - rated it 3 stars

TG Emily wrote: "@TG The slut-shaming was a character's POV - the main character who we are supposed to feel sorry for. If it had been said by someone we were not supposed to like, it would have read differently. A..."

In the part you quoted, it says "Charlie says...", suggesting they are the thoughts of Charlie. I didn't think that was the main character. But even if it is the main character 'we are supposed to like' is not necessarily the same as 'we are supposed to think is perfect'. Depends on the book and how rounded the characterisation is. Calling somebody a slut/slutty is pretty common for teenagers from what I see, so the author may have wanted to depict a realistic teenager. Hmmm, I'll take this all into consideration when I read it.


[Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] Sadly, I wasn't kidding. It's pretty all-pervasive, and one of the reasons I gave up on Women's Studies. And apparently it's only been getting worse. EG: one of my friends was getting his degree in Women's Studies; he is the sweetest, mildest gay guy you will ever meet, but he made the mistake of disagreeing (respectfully) with one of his female classmates in a WS class when that classmate misquoted a text. That classmate then responded: "All you are right now is a man oppressing a woman!" The rest of the class nodded sagely and he was told to be quiet.

And TG does make a fair point above. Something similar occurs in "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret" where the female protagonist/narrator hops on board the "slut-shaming" train because her friends are on it, yet we are still supposed to like her.


Emily May Perhaps this is a cultural/generational thing why I see the issue so differently. At my high school, calling another girl a slut was bullying and I think most people would agree that a bully is not a likeable character. The idea that this author would sell the idea to young girls just baffles and upsets me.

As for the Women's Studies, I have never done that particular subject but I have taken Gender Studies and it was drilled into the students from the start that we had to be respectful towards one another on the issues discussed. The fact that your friend was treated in such a way and it was allowed is horrifying.


message 40: by TG (last edited Apr 30, 2012 06:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

TG Emily wrote: "Perhaps this is a cultural/generational thing why I see the issue so differently. At my high school, calling another girl a slut was bullying and I think most people would agree that a bully is not..."

It's cool you went somewhere so progressive. I'm a teacher and I've had many arguments with my students about calling people sluts (well, they say 'slags' and 'skets') but it doesn't really take and in the end, I think I'm probably doing more harm than good, as they see me and therefore anything I try to teach them, as hopelessly out-of-date and uncool. (Plus, it can start to seem like I'm advocating casual sex to teenagers.) That being said, I still think of my students as being generally good and likeable kids - that they're wrongheaded on this issue doesn't take away every good quality. And they are kids and hopefully they will grow up and gain a different perspective.

Whether a writer should include that attitude in his/her novel, I guess it depends on whether you think books should portray teens as they are or as they ought to be.

@Ian - Jessica Darling calls other girls sluts pretty frequently, too. I think Jessica Darling is a very realistic teenager.


Emily May Oh, definitely as they are. But this book portrays the "good girls", the heroine, the one who is mistreated as pure and innocent. And the "enemy" as a slut. I don't think this is how girls are, I don't think "evil" and "female sexuality" are synonymous. But you make some very interesting points, I'd like to hear your feelings about the book when you read it.


message 42: by [Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] (last edited Apr 30, 2012 08:00PM) (new)

[Name Redacted By Goodreads Because Irrelevant to Review] I suppose it depends on whether you think the book is portraying how things are in this particular situation or how they are in a general, universal sense (I have no opinion, not having read it).

As you both note, the latter can have an unfortunate pedagogical/didactic quality to it.


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh, I agree. I'm honestly twenty pages into the book and Plain Jane Rosie is not plain. Also the entire "I'm popular but modest" thing is so unnerving and for some reason, invokes anger.


message 44: by TG (new) - rated it 3 stars

TG Well, I read it. I have to say, I don't really get where you're coming from with this book. The main character never calls anybody a slut and, I dunno, Juliet never seemed overtly sexual to me. Her clothes/body aren't referenced the same way that Rosaline's friend, Olivia's is, and Olivia isn't demonised for her sexuality. I actually thought the author was fairly sex positive with the way she handled Olivia losing her virginity.

We all view what we read differently and possibly reading your review had an effect on me - I expected Juliet to come sauntering in dressed like Jessica Rabbit, with the personality of Heather Chandler, but she's...just barely in the book, so I have no strong opinion on her characterisation. I thought the book made of point of showing that Juliet wasn't some heartless shrew, though and that Rosaline doesn't blame her. I mean, the book is Romeo and Juliet 90210, so obviously it's not the deepest of character studies, but the effort was made.

*shrug* Well, I'm sure we all know on this site that people have vastly different opinions. No biggie.


message 45: by Ashley-Anne (new)

Ashley-Anne ugh i hate romeo and juliet not romantic at all! gee i had high hopes for this one. damn


Daydreamer Hi Emily.

Prior to reading this book, I had first read your review on it. Normally, I would've been dissuaded from reading the book by the content of your review because from your words, it seemed like something I wouldn't enjoy reading. However, before reading your review, I had also read the book blurb and it had captured my interest. Like you, I also thought it was going to be an interesting angsty tale that would actually suit my tastes. So I decided to give the book a chance and pardon me if I seem rude, but it did not feel like we were reading the same book.

Yes, it was far from what I had expected by the blurb but it did not appear that Rosaline was "slut-shaming." If anyone was doing that, it was Rosaline's friends. Rosaline, on the other hand, only felt shocked and betrayed by Rob and Juliet in the beginning (since Rob was the one who was leading her on with his actions only to suddenly do a complete 180 on her and Juliet was aware of Rosaline's feelings for Rob. Then, she simply pined passively for Rob but made no moves to break Juliet and Rob up as suggested to her by her friends. Nor did she participate in the "hate Juliet" campaign with her friends, alienate Juliet, or do anything vindictive against Juliet.

All she did was…be passive. She kept telling her friends that she was over it (even though she wasn't) and that there's nothing she could do about it. Especially in that moment when she thought about the future wherein Juliet and Rob will be together and even her friends will no longer be able to keep up the upset front. Rosaline just knew there was no place for her in Rob's heart like Juliet has. She pined, still longed for Rob, and eventually moved on.

About that particular quote you pulled out from the book (the one about the blonde dyed hair), I have to point out that Rosaline was quoting her friend Charlie as a way of description. I don't think it was "slut-shaming." And I don't think Rosaline ever thought it was Juliet's fault that Rob was "stolen" per say. She said that if Juliet hadn't arrived, then things wouldn't have turned out as they had. Which can be interpreted as: if she wasn't present, Rob wouldn't have been able to set his eyes on her and be smitten. Somewhere in Rosaline's heart, she was resigned to the fact that Juliet's return was a way of saying that she and Rob weren't destined.

Anyways, I hope I haven't offended you. I actually enjoyed reading your review but after reading the book, it bugged me that I saw things differently and so I had to say something.


Emily May Hi, thanks for sharing your opinion and I'm not offended at all. To be honest, it gives me great comfort to think that people aren't taking negative messages away from this that could be harmful to young girls.

I wish the novel was still fresh in my mind so I could give you a more detailed response, but I do remember from the offset that Juliet was portrayed as a very negative character. I know that reading a book is all about interpretation and can be a completely different experience for different people, but I felt like the story implied Rob wasn't at fault but all his wrong actions were because Juliet manipulated him. In society, there's a tendency to blame the "other woman" when men go astray, people often claim they "steal" the man when actually it was the man being unfaithful. I felt this novel supported that idea.

I also think the reason the author chose to have Rosaline's friends insult Juliet (and not Rosaline herself) was because she wanted the reader to dislike Juliet and still like Rosaline - but the ideas behind it all about Juliet being the one responsible for it all are still the same.

Anyway, I think this is a huge topic that depends greatly on interpretation of the way character's and their actions are portrayed. There doesn't really seem to be a right answer on this one, but I'm glad you enjoyed the book and saw something more positive in it than I did :)


Daydreamer Ah yes, I certainly agree with you that the author was attempting to make Juliet appear in a bad light via Rosaline's friends. Even I don't condone as such, especially when things were vague between Rob and Rosaline. And definitely, interpretations differ. I tend to read closely and a bit more literally. Hence why I saw this book in more favorable light. Anyways, thank you for replying. It was nice to hear from you and I appreciate your opinion on it. I didn't notice the date of your review so I'm sorry for haggling over the details. :)


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