I’m totally cheating in the interest of being in bed in seven minutes. Here is the summary I gave of a novel I did not shortlist for the Cybils:
The Difference between You and Me, by Madeleine George
From the jacket: “Jesse cuts her hair with a Swiss Army knife. She wears massive green fisherman’s boots every day. She’s the founding (and only) member of NOLAW, the National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos. Emily is th evice president of student council. She has an niternship with a local big business. She loves her boyfriend. At least she thinks she does. But there’s no denying her feeling sfor Jesse. When they meet up every Tuesday in the bathroom of the local library, the physical connection they share is undeniable.”
My take: Oh, how I wanted to love this book. It’s firmly in my wheelhouse of politically progressive teen novels.
And I liked it. It had a few really great lines (including one comparing a boy’s kisses to cantaloupe), a (perhaps cheesily so) happy ending, an endearing main protagonist, and several positive messages.
But I had some huge problems with it (most of which I feel could have been sorted out by a strong editor), too.
First, it had way too many issues it was tackling. We covered sexuality (questioning of, discriminating against because of, and parental dismissal of), breast cancer (parental survival of and parental death due to), sprawl (in a thinly veiled attack of WalMart), corporate involvement in education, and hoarding. And those were just the major ones.
Second, it’s written from three perspectives. One character (Jesse, told in third person) is clearly the protagonist we are meant to identify with. The second (Emily, told in first person) is her love interest. And the third (Esther, also in first person) is a new and quirky friend.
Sometimes books told from multiple perspectives can really work for me (as I wrote last night), but other times I feel like it’s an author not wanting to have to figure out how to get across a second person’s perspectives/motivations/important plot point. This book, I feel, falls into the latter category.
Jesse’s sections are strong and could have carried the novel with some revisions.
Emily’s seem to exist merely to explain how StarMart (really, it’s that thin a veil) and the other sources of tension in the novel arise. Unfortunately, Emily is written essentially as a caricature. At face value, she’s an idealized teen girl — pretty, popular, involved, ambitious, nice. Also, egotistical, shallow, and not very smart. The most interesting thing about her is that she likes kissing Jesse. And I would be fine with all of that, but she’s one of the narrators of the story. We’re meant to identify with her in some way, but the author can’t be bothered to round her out.
And Esther gets only two chapters, mostly so she can talk about her mother’s death and Joan of Arc, her role model of tough chicks taking charge and getting stuff done.
Oh, and there was the editing snafu where the room where Emily and Jesse would meet for their trysts moved around the building. That should have been caught in proofing, but is merely a minor quibble in light of the other, more egregious problems I had with the book.
All in all, I felt like I was reading a draft version of the novel I wanted to be reading. But of all books I’ve ever wanted to throw across the room, I liked this one the best.