Remee Danilov, or Romeo, as he is referred to on the street, feels much older than his fifteen years. Mute and homeless, he survives with his friend, Julian, who is just two years older than him, but who sacrifices himself often in order to protect and provide what he can for Remee. The two are friends, although Remee wishes it could be more. As their life on the street unfolds and every day is a struggle to survive the violence, the cold, and the gnawing, unceasing hunger, the two boys become closer, finally admitting their feelings for each other. However, even though they help and try to protect each other, it may not be enough to survive the cold, relentless nightmare homelessness has become for them.
Suki Fleet has re-released her novel, This is Not a Love Story, and it is difficult to describe for you just how brutal and shocking this novel is. With an unvarnished eye, the author relates the story of teenage boy who is left alone by his mother who went out from their home one day and never returned. Now, on the streets, Remee does everything he can to survive with Julian’s help. Julian will not only sell his body in order to garner money for food for him and Remee, but he will do just about anything he possibly can to make sure Remee never has to prostitute himself. He is Remee’s protector and the only one who calls him by his real name—all others know the mute boy as Romeo.
This novel is harsh, unrelenting, and incredibly intense to read. I found myself having to take breaks from the story—putting it away for a few hours just so I could prepare myself to read more of their heartbreaking story. There is no unrealistic knight in white armor that rescues these two—rather there is a system that has failed them repeatedly. From the shelters, where rape and theft are common occurrences, to the streets where bullies prey on the weak and alcohol and drug abuse are rampant, this is most assuredly a far cry from any romance novel you or I may have read before. However, there is love in so many forms in this story. From Cassie who feeds them surreptitiously in the back of her diner, to Gem who allows them to bathe and warm up in her tiny apartment, to the growing love between Julian and Remee, it is these acts of love that keep these two hanging on when everything conspires to bring them down.
This is Not a Love Story is a potent and visceral reminder that so many youth are left scrambling for existence on the streets of every city across the world. They are the nameless many who seem to fade into the shadows and who society has so conveniently forgotten. This novel brings them into the light and reminds us all of how strong love can be when coupled with unflagging courage and determination. Remee’s story is brutal, but the message is clear—love will win if we nurture it even the tiniest bit and those who can reach out a hand to keep its flame alive.