Cindy Tran ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“Last year, this college graduate came out with a book and no one knew about it.”
This is usually the story with many writers. It’s hard to make it big in such a convoluted pool of other talented authors and ground-breaking stories. The publishing industry is a crapshoot, and there’s often a one-in-a-million chance for success.
At least, that’s what people said before Chloe Gong.
She published her debut novel, These Violent Delights, with Simon & Schuster in 2020. It was a New York Times best-selling book before she even graduated, with a double major in English and international relations, from the University of Pennsylvania.
Gong is truly a remarkable person to witness, and her debut series, a duology retelling of Shakespeare’s infamous Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai, is just as stunning.
Any good book has its roots in the characters, and Gong’s retelling is no different. Juliette Cai is the heir to the Scarlett Gang, and her (former) lover is Roma Montagov, the heir of the White Flowers—also known as her family’s worst enemy. Both characters are rebellious leads with soft spots hidden under their hard exteriors.
Gong creates high enough stakes that readers will find themselves rooting for both protagonists even when their loyalties lie on completely opposite sides of the battlefront. Despite all of the burdens these characters carry, there is still so much hope and perseverance in their hearts. To this, Gong writes, “Hope was dangerous. Hope was the most vicious evil of them all, the thing that had managed to thrive in Pandora’s box among misery, and disease, and sadness—and what could endure alongside others with such teeth if it didn’t have ghastly claws of its own?” This tug of war makes the characters at the same time it destroys them. It is a beautiful and wretched thing.
This book is advertised as the ultimate enemies-to-lovers paradise. Readers will be pleased, however, to find that their relationship is not the only thing at play. Gong weaves in so many twists and turns that readers will forget what the advertised trope even was.
Tropes aside, Juliette and Roma’s story strays quite far from Shakespeare’s original (and arguably more boring) plotline. Therefore, even if a reader is familiar with the story, there will still be some unexpected twists and turns to keep them on their toes. For instance, the story is set in 1920s Shanghai, which means that there is a very tumultuous political climate. Additionally, there are some fantastical elements to the story as well. A monster resides in the depths of Shanghai, ravaging lives indiscriminately. And then: two teenagers from rival gangs are forced to cooperate in order to defeat it.
Fear not, as while this plotline sounds so far off from the original plot that it seems like an entirely different story, Gong still ties certain elements back to her inspiration. For instance, Marshall Seo, a Korean member of the predominantly Russian White Flowers—and resident comic relief/universally-loved human being—is obviously an allusion to Mercutio from the original Romeo and Juliet. There are also certain scenes that parallel back to Shakespeare’s magnum opus, though to reveal them would be a disservice to the true experience of stumbling upon such an Easter egg.
And then there’s the ending. Gong certainly knows how to write a cliffhanger. Her endings are not unsatisfactory, however, and are actually the exact opposite: some threads are tied by the final page, and some are left open to the reader’s interpretation. This is especially wonderful given the format of the series—a duology—leaves fairly little to the imagination, and the edgy ending allows the reader a moment of panic before reprieve comes in the following book.
Our Violent Ends, the incredible sequel to the already ground-breaking Our Violent Ends came out on November 16th, 2021. The series is a must-read for lovers of young adult fantasy and anyone who has a soft spot for the former friends-to-enemies-to-lovers trope.