Saturday, 23 June 2012

Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Hardback book cover of Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
I was the most sceptical of sceptics when this dropped onto the doormat, kindly sent by Hodder & Stoughton. I mean, it's a beautiful book - in the introduction, Jodi Picoult states that they wanted to create a book that anybody would be proud to have on their bookshelves, and they more than succeeded. It's a thick hardback with shiny gold embellishment and creamy white pages, and it's just stunning. Aesthetics aside though, the synopsis just didn't interest me. But hey ho, I picked it up out of that heavy sense of duty - Hodder & Stoughton have been good to me and I owe them one... and I LOVED THIS BOOK MORE THAN CAKE.

Plot summary - Delilah is a bit of a loner who prefers spending her time in the school library with her head in a book—one book in particular. Between the Lines may be a fairy tale, but it feels real. Prince Oliver is brave, adventurous, and loving. He really speaks to Delilah.

And then one day Oliver actually speaks to her. Turns out, Oliver is more than a one-dimensional storybook prince. He’s a restless teen who feels trapped by his literary existence and hates that his entire life is predetermined. He’s sure there’s more for him out there in the real world, and Delilah might just be his key to freedom.

Delilah and Oliver work together to attempt to get Oliver out of his book, a challenging task that forces them to examine their perceptions of fate, the world, and their places in it. And as their attraction to each other grows along the way, a romance blossoms that is anything but a fairy tale.

There was a strange sense of parallel-ity (hey, that's a word!) when I was reading Between the Lines. Delilah, the protagonist, is obsessed with a book meant for younger children... and so am I. This book (the one in our world) is clearly meant for pre to mid teens - the font is large and multi-coloured, the language is simple and there's nothing even Mary Whitehouse could complain about in regard to violence, sex or bad language. In short, don't expect this to be anything like Jodi Picoult's other works - if you made a Spectrum of Similarity and put My Sister's Keeper on one side, you'd have to get an Olympic shot-putter to hurl Between the Lines as far away from it as possible to create any real sense of the difference. 

I'm positive that this book would still have been published and promoted just as much even if it wasn't co-written by Jodi Picoult. It would easily stand on it's own two feet. Apparently her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, was actually responsible for the whole idea and the pair wrote the book after school, on holidays and in any spare moment they could grab together. It's a lovely idea that resulted in a lovely book.

I finished it in a day, and then had that horrible sinking feeling that a) I'd never have the pleasure of reading it again for the first time and b) all my other books suddenly seemed dull in comparison. It just captivated me - the story, while not completely original, is fast-paced and contains enough interesting sparks to keep in fresh. I particularly liked the ending - when I (wrongly) guessed how it would end, it turned out much better than I expected and just seemed to fit perfectly. This is often where the best books fall down, but Between the Lines sailed through with a wonderful, well-rounded finish.

The story is told in three alternating points of view, using a chapter for each. There's Delilah's story as she reads the book, Oliver's experiences of being read and then excerpts from the original book in question. Each time a chapter came to an end, I felt disappointed because that character was my favourite... only to feel exactly the same way at the end of the next chapter! If that's not the mark of good writing, I don't know what is.

I loved the characters inside the book Delilah read, and how they milled around when the book wasn't being read. It's written as though they're just actors playing their allocated parts, and when the book closes they revert back to their own personalities and mannerisms. The evil villain, for example, isn't evil at all - in fact he's a talented artist and keen butterfly collector! It gets a little silly and confusing in the last third or so, but otherwise it's explained very well and I was hooked.

That's not to say I don't have any criticisms - unfortunately it fell foul of the Cardinal Rule of YA Romance. Delilah and Oliver fall in love instantly, without any reasoning or timing consideration. And I do mean at a click of the fingers - it's the most Insta of InstaLove and it did annoy me quite a bit. It's explained a little from Delilah's end, I suppose, but even then it does seem remarkably fast.We're just kind of 'told' that they love each other without really ever being shown.

I know I mentioned earlier it didn't bother me that it was aimed at people younger than myself, but one tiny aspect of it did. While I didn't mind the large, full-colour illustrations, there are also a few smaller silhoutted ones dotted through the pages for no reason. You should be able to see what I mean on the right. Also, the font changes colour and size depending on whose point of view the chapter is told in - Oliver's pages use a purple Times New Roman style, while Delilah's are in a green Arial type. The pages in between are blissfully black. I did get used to this but I found it a little disconcerting at first, and it does re-emphasise that Between the Lines is meant for children.

Okay, I'm done. All I want to say is that yes, Between the Lines is meant for a much younger audience than Jodi Picoult's other books. But as long as you go into it knowing that, you're in for a best treat. This is easily one of the best books I've read all year.

Visit Jodi Picoult's blog here, or find her on Twitter.


  1. I've been wanting to read one of Jodi Picoult's books for awhile now. I just don't have the money. I wish I did! ha ha! I've been told her writing is awesome!

  2. Sounds great! I've always had a love for stories that cross the "reality line" and this sounds refreshing and lovely. I confess that although I started out loving Jodi Picoult, I found her books got quite formulaic after a few and won't read them any more, but this collaboration with her daughter sounds like something fresh and original. Thanks for the review.

  3. I think I somehow managed to completely miss what this story was actually about, even though I was aware of it and sort of thought that I wanted to read it. How cute! Chapters told by a character that's being read by another character?! I'm totally going to buy this and then sneak it into the house when Andy isn't looking and then hug it and love it forever!

    And I had no clue that Samantha Van Leer was Jodi Picoult's daughter! I am learning all kinds of things this evening! One of those things is how ignorant I am...

    1. You're not ignorant! You just don't know everything there is to know about YA and fairytale books... I'd stick to the legal knowledge, if I were you.

      I do really, really like this book though. They're doing a UK tour in July, but it's only three dates. I've 98% decided already to go to the Manchester one and get a signed copy :)

      And it's so pretty!

  4. You've made me even more excited to read this book!

  5. I certainly do not mind a book that is intended for a younger reading audience as long as it is well written. I was planning on reading this anyway, but your review solidifies that. This is a different cover than what I have seen for this book.

  6. Interesting - I would not have thought that the "writing with one's daughter" thing would work but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  7. hey there~
    I enjoyed reading ur entry. this particular entry. i just bought the book and like u, I finished it in a day and it WAS devastating knowing that i will never feel the same as i did when i first read the book.

  8. Oh, I loved Between the Lines! You're right--what book lover doesn't want to hop into the pages of some of the amazingly wonderful books we've read? I liked the innocence in Delilah and Oliver, too. It makes them feel like they're actually the age they were written to be, which is something that does tend to be lost in YA sometimes. Not bad enough to really complain about often, but still. I really liked the idea of Oliver being Edgar, only in the book. It reminds me of this one episode of "House" I watched on Thursday. (I'm currently addicted to that show.)

    Irene Jennings (Sherri Hill Homecoming Dresses)


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