Monday, July 16, 2012
Between The Lines - reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
What a cool, clever, imaginative book is Between The Lines (A&U, $29.99). Aimed at older kids and young adults, it’s the result of a collaboration between best-selling US author Jodi Picoult and her 16-year-old daughter Samantha van Leer.
The idea was Samantha’s and Picoult claims they literally took turns writing each sentence. This doesn’t sound like a technique destined to result in a good book but somehow it has. In fact, Between The Lines has the feel of a future classic and reminded me a little of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.
It begins as a standard-issue fairy-tale with a Once upon a time and a handsome prince on a dangerous quest to fight a dragon. But there’s a brilliant twist – the characters are only acting out the lines when the book is open. As soon as the reader closes it they’re free to go off and do their own thing – baking, painting pictures, playing chess on a board they draw in the sand - so long as when a crack opens along the seam and there’s a blinding light they all immediately take their places in the story.
Handsome Prince Oliver is chafing against this existence. Sick of repeating the same tale over and over, tired of the happily ever afters and curious about the world outside, he longs to escape the pages. He’s tried talking to the readers directly but no one ever hears him. Then along comes Delilah. A high school misfit she is obsessed by the sweet fairy-tale, reading it over and over again until she is so steeped in it she is able to see beyond the story and winds up being able to communicate with Oliver whenever he’s alone on page 43.
Conversing with a fairy-tale character has the inevitable result and Delilah winds up in therapy. But she’s undaunted. In love with the handsome Prince and determined to help him join her in the real world, she embarks on a risky adventure.
This is far from classic Picoult but it does have some of the ingredients that have made her novels such a success – snappy readable prose, a gripping central conflict, expert plotting, interesting human relationships Meanwhile Samantha has contributed the authentic inner monologue of a teenage girl.
While it's aimed at kids this is a book that’s sophisticated enough to crossover as a light adult read. The book-within-a-book concept is cleverly constructed; it's warm, funny and fresh. There are some lovely old-fashioned illustrated and the book’s been designed so even young readers should be able to follow the frequent shifts in point of view.
With all the Twilight-style romances round at the moment, it makes a refreshing change to have a love story where it’s the male character that needs rescuing. A sweet, charming book to capture the imagination.
*See Nicky Pellegrino in conversation with Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer at their only NZ appearance on Monday July 23, at 7pm, at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. Book at www.buytickets.co.nz