Monday, August 8, 2011
Review: Between by Jessica Warman
Publisher: Walker & Company
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Elizabeth Valchar's life is just beginning. Rich and pretty and popular -- she has it all. But it's all cut tragically short on the night of her 18th birthday, when Liz awakens to find her own body floating in the frigid water beside her family's yacht. Liz has no idea how she died -- or even how she lived -- until Alex Berg, a boy she barely knew in life until his own tragic death just a year before, arrives to be her guide. As they piece together what cruel twist of fate cut her perfect life short, Liz begins to discover that nothing is what it seems in the tiny town of Noank -- and something unspeakable had been eating her alive long before that fateful night.
In Between, Jessica Warman writes a scandalous tale of tragedy and betrayal, death and ruined lives. A foreboding air hangs over the novel, an atmosphere heavy with secrets and pain. It is clear from page one that something terrible has been a long time coming in the sleepy town of Noank; the only question is what tragic chain of events led them here. The ultimate mystery of how Liz died tickles at the reader's mind from start to finish -- the nagging sensation of suspicion with no proof. However, though the mystery of Liz's death is shadowy, the other big mystery of the novel is fairly obvious from the beginning.
Warman's take on the afterlife is intriguing, and an effective narrative technique for introducing readers to Liz before her death, and the childhood traumas that made her what she is. Liz and her afterlife tour guide Alex merely have to blink to go back in time, to watch their own memories from the outside -- seeing things they may have missed or been too young to understand the first time around. The ability to distance themselves from their own lives is a thought-provoking concept, and provides many heartbreaking revelations for Liz throughout the novel.
The afterlife connection between Liz and her lifelong (living) boyfriend Richie is also an unusual -- almost supernatural -- addition, and gives the novel its only real emotional depth. Liz and Richie's relationship wasn't perfect (far from it), but it had withstood the test of time despite their young age, and made it painfully clear that the two teens were meant to be. They made stupid mistakes, as humans are wont to do, but they had an air of innocence and devotion about them that was endearing to witness, and made Liz's loss more profound.
With this one exception, however, the characters are horribly off-putting. They all feel so flat, their little intrigues and ugly secrets sordid -- like a soap opera. It was hard to relate to either them or their behavior. The town is populated with the rich and privileged, and the adults behave as badly as their spoiled children. Liz and her crew are the top of the totem pole -- obsessed with makeup and weight loss and popularity. Their teachers would never dare to question this elite group of miscreants, and they generally get away with being nightmarish human beings. It's unfathomable that anyone, no matter their age, could be so insipid and shallow. All their drama seems overwrought and superficial, their affairs and betrayals trite.
Thankfully, the secrets that finally begin to surface near the end of the novel carry more weight, giving Liz some much-needed humanity and making her a more sympathetic character. Though this kind of afterlife journey is nothing new in young adult fiction, Between adds the extra flair of a murder mystery to keep readers turning the page.
Disclosure: I received an advance proof copy of this novel at BEA. This did not affect my review in any way.