Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
The next time you’re browsing the children’s department at your local Eason, you may find yourself looking twice at the newest addition to the shelf. It looks so out of place that even some of our own staff members have been caught trying to move it to adult fiction. The book in question is Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, 16 year old Samantha Van Leer.
For those not familiar with the international bestselling author, Picoult’s novels deal with a myriad of moral dilemmas and ultimately pose one question to the reader – ‘what would you do?’ It sounds innocent enough but when the ‘moral dilemmas’ in question surround issues such as murder, child abuse, school shootings, suicide and harvesting organs – the subject matter of her biggest hit, My Sister’s Keeper – perhaps Picoult is not the ideal candidate for your child’s new favourite author.
However, this novel marks a new departure for the 46 year old, as she is joined by her daughter for her first foray into the children’s’ book market. Between the Lines is an innocuous tale of a 15 year old called Delilah who finds solace in her favourite childhood fairy tale while her peers have moved on to boys and make-up. We see Delilah taking the definition of ‘getting lost in a book’ a step too far as she strikes up a friendship with Prince Oliver, the fairy tale’s main character. She then has to choose whether to help Oliver escape from his bookish prison or to join him herself in what she sees as the land of ‘happily ever after’. Here we see Picoult’s trademark ‘what would you do?’ approach come into play. Well, you didn’t think it was going to be entirely different, did you!?
Far-fetched as the whole story might seem, the premise is one that most teens with an imagination can accept, considering the time many of them spend conjuring up outlandish scenarios featuring their latest celebrity crushes. They’ll also enjoy the many references to popular culture, including X-Men, MTV and even (or, should I say, especially) The Hunger Games. What’s more, the concept is reminiscent of Pixar’s Toy Story – the characters in the fairy tale have a whole other life once the pages of the book are closed – and who doesn’t love Toy Story?
Picoult and Van Leer skilfully dismantle traditional perspectives of the fairy tale world with all its damsels-in-distress and happily-ever-afters. In this case, it is the prince who is in distress (about being trapped in the book); he and the ‘damsel’ despise one another and they’re forced to play out the same ‘once upon a time’ scenario over and over again every time someone reads the book. You can’t help but feel sorry for poor old Prince Oliver, it’s like a folkloric Groundhog Day.
Content aside, the physical book is a joy to behold. The jacket is understated and tasteful so one can be seen reading on public transport without the ‘shame’ of your fellow commuters knowing you’re engrossed in a child’s story. It’s the Fifty Shades of fairy tales, if you will.
It’s inside the cover that this subtlety ends. Not only does it contain beautiful colour illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert and monochrome sketches by Scott M. Fischer, the font and colour of the text change with each character’s voice. It’s unusual, it’s exciting and it had me absorbed.
If I could find one fault with this book, it would be that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Who is it aimed at? Is it for older readers who secretly want to indulge in a fairy tale? Is it for ‘tweens’ who aren’t yet ready to progress to ridiculous vampire romances or disturbing dystopian futures? Picoult herself refers to it as ‘YA’ (Young Adult) but YA it certainly is not, considering YA is a genre that generally contains some variation on the adult themes of violence, sex, drugs and even the occasional bit of rock n’ roll.
Between the Lines is saccharine sweet and definitely more suited to pre-teen readers and their parents, particularly those who are fans of Picoult’s adult novels and want to share their favourite author with their child. Just don’t expect any rare medical affliction or court room drama.
You can read an extract on the Hodder website here.