Title: Illyria
Author: Elizabeth Hand
ISBN: 9780670012121
Pages: 135 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, An Imprint of Penguin Group, c2010.

“Rogan and I were cousins; our fathers were identical twins. Rogan was the youngest of six boys, I the youngest of six girls. Growing up, there were always jokes about this symmetry, even though everyone in the Tierney clan bred prolifically–there were twenty-six first cousins, divided among five families.
Still, only Rogan and I were ever called kissing cousins, despite the fact that our older brothers and sisters were also paired off, age-wise, as neatly as if our parents had timed their conjugal relations so that their children would all be born within a few days of each other, and Rogan and I actually on the same day. […]
He was in love with me, as I was with him.” (1, 8 )

Although they are cousins, Madeline and Rogan, genetically speaking, are like half-siblings because their fathers are identical twins. This doesn’t stop their infatuation with each other, which blossoms throughout high school despite the family warnings and the classmates’ side-long looks. When they audition for their school’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, they think their similar looks will land them roles of the twins Viola and Sebastian. While Madeline lands the lead, Rogan’s reluctant singing talent gets him the role of the court fool. With their family trying their hardest to split them apart and their lives taking them in different directions, will their desire for each other survive?

I’m trying really hard to ignore the shiver down my back when I read that first chapter, emphasizing the forbidden relationship that Rogan and Madeline had. Elizabeth Hand does a great job of pounding that fact into the reader’s heads. I couldn’t forget that Madeline and Rogan were essentially half-siblings. It just made my skin crawl the entire time.

I guess if that was Hand’s intention, than she succeeded beautifully. She also succeeded in portraying the favoritism that was shown towards Madeline. Although they were both seen as bad influences on the other person, it’s Madeline who seems to get the advantages in the end. Finally, the author succeeds in writing a bittersweet love story of star-crossed lovers, no matter how you might feel about the relationship.

Rogan, I think, gets the short end of the stick here, as his singing ability overshadows everything else about him. While it lands him the role as the fool, everyone including him is convinced that his talent will fade with age and leave him with nothing substantial or noteworthy. His rebelliousness ends up landing him in trouble, but it seems like he’s just fulfilling everyone’s expectations of him. They expect him to screw up, to cause problems, to be contrary, and so he does. He’s proud of his singing ability, but he both resents and thirves on the attention it grants him.

The complex relationship is the most interesting part of the book, but I’m not sure if that’s enough to bypass the heeby-jeeby feeling I get. Then again, mabe I’m not supposed to get past that feeling. Madeline and Rogan certainly couldn’t ignore their feelings toward each other.

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