Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

If you’re looking for a quirky fairy tale with appeal to the younger end of the market, this could be the book for you. Picoult fans will be pleased to hear that she and teenage daughter Samantha Van Leer have teamed up to co-write a tale with a metafictive twist. Fifteen-year-old Delilah has become obsessed with a children’s fairy tale book she discovered in the school library. She finds herself tugged back to the book time and again for subsequent readings – in fact, such is her preoccupation, she’d rather live inside the story of the book than in her real life. Delilah must hide her obsession by sequestering herself away in order to keep face with the one friend she has, and not to further alienate herself from her peers. Delilah is unhappy, a loner and struggling to make sense of her life. So it is not entirely surprising to find she has fallen in love with sixteen-year-old Oliver, protagonist of the fairy tale. Prince Oliver, in the meantime, tired of re-living the fake scripted life imposed on him by the author of the fairy tale whenever a reader opens the book, wants out. Especially now that they have discovered a way to speak to each other, and he has fallen in love with Delilah.

Essentially the reader is taken on a journey of countless attempts to extract Oliver out of the fairy tale and into Delilah’s world, where they can be together. I began to find this tiresome as it became apparent that this was to be the focus of the story arc. The novel is structured with chapters presented in turn from Oliver’s and Delilah’s perspectives, interspersed with the fairy tale itself. The fairy tale characters felt more fleshed out than the real world characters in this intrepid co-authored novel and I found it difficult to like or have empathy for Delilah, who seemed remote and two-dimensional at times. Some of her angsty responses to her mother, her peers and Oliver felt contrived and not readily believable. I would have liked to have seen more of the book devoted to developing Delilah’s backstory in order to set the reader up to care about her and to understand her motivation.

Given these limitations, the book still delivers an enjoyable read and teens will no doubt engage with the well-drawn array of fairy tale characters – often imbued with humour – and the leitmotifs of the book – loneliness, identity, loss, authenticity and strategies to cope with life, to name a few. The reader is able to read this book on several levels and one of the strengths of the writing is in the clever use of symbolism to underscore the broad themes. Does Delilah actually communicate with Oliver in the fairy tale or is the reality of her life so unbearable that it is easier to obfuscate it in the fantasy offered up by the world of the book?

An audacious teen love-story for those who love fairy tales.

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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