Jodi Picoult is one of the few authors who is pretty much an auto-buy for me, so I grabbed this soon after it came out, prepared to fall in love with it. I didn't imagine for a second that I'd end up feeling so... underwhelmed.
Delilah is an unpopular high school student, who would much rather the company of books than people. Oliver is a prince stuck in a fairytale, who would give anything to be in the real world and in control of his own life. When Delilah sees Oliver move and, subsequently, hears him talk, she thinks she is going mad. Soon, she has fallen in love with the handsome fairytale prince and would do anything to get him out of the book and into her life. But getting a character out of a book proves a lot harder than writing them in.
Firstly, I want to focus on the things I loved about this book, because there were
things that I absolutely adored. When I first opened the package from Amazon and took this book out, I flicked through the pages and was startled to find full colour illustrations, as well as small silhouettes dotted about throughout the text. The art in this book is astonishingly beautiful, and a lot of credit must be given to the illustrators that worked on it. They've done a marvellous job. I find it sad that the beautiful illustrations were such a surprise, and that more authors and publishers do not make use of them. Jodi Picoult says in her notes at the back that she wanted to heark back to the days when books (especially fairytales) used to have illustrations and colour as standard, back when books were precious heirlooms to be passed down through the generations. I think that, in this at least, Between the Lines
One of the best things about the colours and illustrations in this book is that it is another, rather visible difference between different strands of the story. The book alternates between the viewpoints of Delilah and Oliver, interspersed with pages from the fairytale itself. I thought this worked well. If it had been told from just one viewpoint, the story would have got confusing - we wouldn't have been able to see what happened when the book was closed, or in the real world, depending on which viewpoint was chosen. The pages of the fairytale were also a nice touch, giving an insight into the story that takes over Delilah's life.
Another thing I loved about this book is the idea of Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, sitting down together and working on it. It must be such a lovely experience to be able to do something like that together; as a writer myself, I'm aware that writing is often a painful and lonely enterprise. They also seem to work surprisingly well together - you can't tell in the slightest where one voice ends and another begins, and can't tell which bits were whose ideas.
Unfortunately, what you can
tell is that a lot of this book came straight from the mind of an inexperienced, fifteen-year-old writer. Not only due to the plot, which itself feels like a watered-down version of Inkheart, but in the execution of the story, the characters, and the world.
With the exception of Delilah and, perhaps, Oliver, the characters in the novel come across as rather flat and one-dimensional. This isn't just limited to the characters from the fairytale either - who include a boy cursed to be a talking dog, mermaids, fairies and pirates - but the characters in the real world as well, including Delilah's best friend, Jules. Jodi and Samatha are at pains to show that the characters in the fairytale have very different personalities when in the story and when the book is closed, but... I felt that the personalities were very obvious. Very opposite. Like the awful villain in the story who is actually a butterfly collector who bakes cookies with pink sprinkles on. Obviously
. It was almost as though I was reading theatre, the pantomime kind. Fun to watch, maybe not so much to read.
I found the world of the book quite inconsistent. I couldn't quite imagine what the authors were trying to desribe. The characters live in the world of the book and the world seems richly imagined, but then it mentions the illustrations that they are climbing across and it just doesn't seem plausible. How do the characters get from page to page? This was never explained. I just... I really loved the idea, I just couldn't see
it. I had too many questions about the world, and they were just glossed over.
Time wasn't handled that well in the novel, either. Sometimes it felt as though months had passed, but really, only a day had passed. Other times, it felt a bit vague, with reference to the time Delilah and Oliver spent just talking. What was it? Evenings? Weeks? Months? How long did it take for them to really like each other? To fall in love? There was only one 'weekend' where I really felt I knew where I was in the timeline, and that's because explicit mention was made of the days. I always found myself wondering why Delilah hadn't needed to go renew the book. A mention of that would be nice, at least.
Then, there was the ending. Being a Jodi Picoult book, I was kind of expecting a dramatic plot twist, but it didn't really happen. That was fine, actually. I didn't care about that. Yet, I hated the ending. I really didn't like it. There were too many questions left hanging after the superficial, shallow happily ever after. I hated that Edgar disappeared into the book and we didn't get to find out the consequences of that. I hated that how they managed to switch places wasn't really explained very well. I hated that Edgar would do that. How incredibly selfish. Are they going to lie
to Jessamyn about Oliver's identity? Are they going to tell her the truth and reveal she'll never get her son back? It was so unsatisfying
The writing itself was good and technically brilliant; to be honest, I'd expect nothing less from a writer as experienced as Picoult. Yet, there were even some things that bugged me here. Nothing about the technicalities of the writing, but the actual execution. Occasionally, characters would repeat things that they had already said a couple of chapters ago. Frump's crush on the princess was explained a few too many times for my taste, and there was a couple of other things that were reiterated again and again. Your audience is young adult, not stupid; you only need to explain things once!
I must admit, I enjoyed the metafictional qualities of the story. The pages of the storybook, rewriting the book, thinking about the lives characters lead inside the book... yeah, I loved all that. Ever since I did a module at university about metafiction, I've had a soft spot for it. :) So, props to Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer for dealing with some of these issues (deliberate or not). :)
Overall, perhaps I had set my expectations a bit too high due to Jodi Picoult's name being attached. For a first book by a teen author, Between the Lines
certainly stands out in the market. But as a YA book, it is perhaps too sweet and saccharine in contrast to some of the competition. There are quite a few flaws - the biggest, perhaps, the ending - but for younger readers, I think, it's a solid, innocent read. If you're worried about the violence and adult content in a lot of YA reads today, this definitely doesn't have any of that. It's a sweet romance story about impossible, forbidden love. :)