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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 6/100: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

Between the Lines - Samantha van Leer, Jodi Picoult

This book's premise interested me as soon as I read a review of it in School Library Journal: a teenage girl falls in love with a prince in a fairy tale, and becomes obsessed with finding a way to "break him free of it" or "make him real." I think anyone who has ever "fallen for" a fictional character can relate!

Unfortunately, the book only skims the surface of deeper questions about the power of imagination, escapism, and the line between fantasy and reality, reducing it to mostly a "wish-fulfillment" story. I also couldn't keep from remembering that the book was written by a mother and daughter sitting side-by-side, and wondering how awkward it would have been to write the love scenes with your mom literally watching over your shoulder. That's probably why the romance stays fairly chaste, which is not a problem in itself -- it's nice to have a book with romantic elements that one can feel comfortable recommending to younger or more conservative readers.

The worldbuilding was a little inconsistent. I loved the idea of characters within a book "living" in that world all the time, even when the book is closed, and simply "playing their parts" like actors on stage each time the book was opened. The power of the story to pull their strings regardless of what they wanted was also interesting. There were a lot of humorous moments as Prince Oliver tried to understand concepts, social norms, and technology from Delilah's world, but at other times the author seemed to forget that there were things he *wouldn't* understand, like photographs (which, somehow, he magically knows about). There's also mention about how the characters aren't limited to what's *written* in the story, but that what was in the author's mind is also in theirs, so that they have access to information not explicitly written about--such as how to play chess. But since the book was written in a modern era, shouldn't the characters have implicitly known about modern social mores and at least some technology? Perhaps they only know about other things the author imagined *in their world* even if she didn't write them specifically into scenes, but that distinction isn't made clear.

There are some inconsistencies outside the world of the story as well. Supposedly Delilah has the only copy of the fairy tale in existence (the author wrote it for her son and never commercially published it), yet the librarian knows a little bit about the tale's origins; if the book was never officially published or marketed, and if the author has apparently given up writing, how does the librarian get this information? And it bugged me that the title of the fairy tale, "Between the Lines," makes NO sense as a title for the fairy tale itself, even though it's a good title for the larger story.

The many failed attempts to break Oliver out of the story were interesting, and I liked that it was never as easy as they thought it might be and how you were left wondering what, if anything, would actually work. The ending was a little too pat for my tastes, and although I didn't love this book, I would be interested in seeing a sequel that would explore some of the questions the ending opened.

Overall, this is a sweet story that is fun to be swept away in, but you'll be disappointed if you go in hoping for something deeper (as I did.) The illustrations are beautiful, so if you listen to the audio version (which I did) make sure to pick up a copy of the printed book as well. It would also be a fun read-aloud with kids, and get them thinking about what the lives of their own favorite characters might be like "between the lines."