Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Be forewarned: this book is unlike anything that Jodi Picoult has ever written, so if you are looking for a cleverly written courtroom drama, turn away now.  But, just the same, if you are looking for a cleverly written fantasy-adventure-romance, then look no further than Between the Lines, co-authored by Picoult’s daughter, Samantha Van Leer.

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15-year-old Delilah McPhee is in a social rut: everyone in school shuns her for an accident involving the school queen bee, and her mother is a tired, but well-meaning cleaning lady. She soothes her mundane life by diving into books, in particular, a mysterious fairy tale called Between the Lines (of course). She finds a metaphorical companion in the story’s main character, a handsome, but cowardly, prince named Oliver. Unknown to Delilah, it is Oliver’s mission to act out the story as the written words dictate, but when no one is reading the book, he is just a normal teenager who yearns for freedom. But when Delilah actually begins to hear Oliver speak to her from the book, the adventure takes off….

This is basically every reader’s dream: for your favorite book character to hear you and speak to you. Such a plot isn’t going to earn this book originality points, and in fact, it sounds like wish fulfillment. But I consider it more a love letter to stories and the spells they cast on their readers.

While several people complain about the somewhat flatness of the characters, I thought that, since the book’s concept pertains to everyone who has ever fallen hard for a book character, it’s not so terrible.  Delilah and Oliver are the everywoman and everyman in their respective worlds—the representatives of reality and fantasy.  Delilah is a typical loner reader, but has enough sass to make her interesting. Oliver is described in a specific way, but to me, he was a combination of the storybook heroes from my growing up.

The story that Oliver and his friends inhabit is like a play they must act out, but when the book is not being read, they can do whatever they like, and be whatever they like.  This makes the side characters a lot of fun, since they are fantasy archetypes doing the opposite of what their character demands: the dastardly villain can study butterflies, the queen can be a master baker, and the animal sidekick can be a kick-butt chess player. I’ll admit, I finished the book and wondered if the characters on my bookshelf were living lives outside of their literary adventures—if there was a character that desired to go into the real world.  It made me think that the next time I read a book, I’ll be extra careful to listen for those voices that say, “Help me!”, as Delilah discovered when she heard Oliver’s voice.

The book also has a very interactive feel to it.  Very much like The Neverending Story (another WONDERFUL fantasy book), there are parts where you actually read the illustrated story that Oliver came from that correspond to when Delilah is reading the story.  And in between are silhouette drawings that have to do with what is going on in the book.  My favorite is when Oliver reaches through the barrier between the book world and Delilah’s world, and she touches his finger to the page to meet his hand.  There is a silhouette drawing of Oliver reaching his hand up, as if expecting the reader to touch his hand, and let him know that the reader is there to hear him.  You may just find yourself copying Delilah, and putting your finger there to touch his hand.

So it sounds like this book deserves a perfect score, right? Let me reiterate: people complain about this book being so different from Picoult’s other works—that this is really her daughter Samantha’s fluffy romance that shouldn’t have been published under Jodi’s name. But again, for someone who has never read Jodi’s work, I can honestly say that Samantha has a compelling voice, and she created something that spoke to me, which, at the end of the day, is the purpose for any story. It may be simple and be on the verge of straight-up wish fulfillment, but I cannot fault any writer for creating something wholly enjoyable and sincere. No matter how big a part Jodi actually had in telling this story, it’s still one of those books I’ll come back to time and again. We’re all allowed our book candy, and this is mine.

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