Title: Between You & Me
Author: Marisa Calin
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Publication Date: August 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 256
Holy crap. What I thought was just going to be typical young adult romance novel (judging from the cover and the title) completely blew me away. This is what I get for not reading the included plot summary.
16 year old Phyre (yes, that's actually her name, get over it) is entering high school with her best friend. She is fairly popular, generally liked and has landed on the "Hot List" once. Just your average teenage high school protagonist.
Until the new drama teacher Mia comes along and we learn that Phyre has feelings for her. At first she's confused. This is a woman she has a crush on! But the more time goes by, the more it feels right. It starts out with mild fascination, and grows into a near obsession, with Phyre constantly thinking about Mia and seeing her everywhere. But while Phyre is sorting out her feelings for Mia, she fails to see that her best friend has feelings for her.
The book was in a screenplay format which took me a while to get used to but I really ended up liking because of it's tie-in to the plot. The writing style was very simple and straightforward but scattered jewels of detail here and there placed the reader in Phyre's world. This made for a quick easy read but the subject matter kept Between You & Me from being light and forgettable.
The most interesting part of the novel was the best friend. Since the novel was written in second person, the best friend is referred to as "you". The first time "you" is mentioned, I assumed that "you" was a guy. After all, calling someone "you" for the entirety of a novel has romantic connotations which would make "you" a guy. Right? After I found out that Phyre had feelings for a female teacher, I started thinking. There was nothing in the text to suggest that the best friend was for sure, a guy. "You" could just as easily have been a girl who happened to have a crush on Phyre. After this thought occurred to me, I felt so dumb. Why couldn't "you" be a girl?
I consider myself very open-minded but even in my mind, the default setting of sexual orientation for a book character was telephone-pole straight. I'm sure that is true for many other readers. Calin sends the message that this is wrong quite effectively without preaching about it and instead lets the reader find this out for themselves. And I commend her for that.
I was surprised since I wasn't expecting this book to be a "coming-out" story. But at the same time, it's really not. So we don't know if "you" is a girl or boy. We don't know exactly what Phyre's sexual orientation is. We don't even know if her feelings for a woman was just a passing phase or not. We don't know all these things but in the end, it doesn't matter. The fact that all these things remain ambiguous shows us just how unnecessary these labels really are. The only thing that defines Phyre are her feelings.
Between You & Me is first and foremost a book about falling in love. It definitely will also bring up discussion about LGBTQ issues. Calin does a splendid job of making a story about a girl with complicated feelings so deliciously simple.
I give it a 4.5/5
HOLY COW. Marisa Calin herself emailed me about this book review and it is now on her website under the "Reviews" section. You can submit your own reviews too at http://www.marisacalin.com/.