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Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Between' by Jessica Warman

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Elizabeth Valchar --- pretty, popular and rich --- wakes up the morning after her 18th birthday on the yacht where she’d been celebrating with her closest friends. A persistent thumping noise has roused her. When she goes to investigate, she finds her own drowned body is hitting the side of the boat. Liz is dead. She has no memory of what happened to her, and can only observe in horror the fallout of her death.

She’s also soon joined by Alex Berg, a quiet boy from her high school who was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The two keep each other company, floating in and out of memories and trying to piece together the details of what happened to each of them.

In her regular life, Liz was a runner. It wasn’t abnormal for her to run 8-10 miles per day. But as memories from closer to her death begin to surface, Liz finds that she’d been running much more than normal, and that she’d all but stopped eating. Liz’s mother, who died when Liz was nine, had battled with anorexia as well, and those around her worried that Liz was following in her mother’s footsteps. But something more sinister was consuming Liz from the inside out...

Elizabeth Valchar has died at her 18th birthday party. Now she’s stuck permanently wearing cowboy boots that pinch, watching her father waste away and observing her BFF step sister move in on her beloved boyfriend. Because though Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Valchar is dead, she’s still hanging around her small, affluent town of Noank.

After discovering her body face-down and floating alongside her father’s boat, Liz has just been wandering around. She was there to see her body discovered, watch the divers fish her out and listen as the local cop threw around words like ‘suspicious circumstances’ and ‘murder’.

Now Liz is left to watch a year of mourning as her friends crumble and her family shatter. But Liz isn’t alone. Another died-too-young teenager, Alex Berg, is also a ghostly hanger-on. Alex was killed in a hit-and-run last year, and now he and Liz are stuck together for some reason. Alex thinks it’s to figure out how they died and what they need to know to ‘move on’ . . . but Liz can’t remember anything. She knows she loved her boyfriend, Richie, but she can’t remember if she cheated on him like he claims she did. She knows that she loved her best friend (and later step-sister) Josie – but she doesn’t know why she’s now trying to take her place in the school hierarchy and with Richie.

But most of all, Liz can’t remember being such a cold-hearted queen-bee bitch. But Alex does. . . and he shows her – through flashbacks and memory-jumping, Alex shows Liz exactly what kind of person she was when she was alive. And, suddenly, Liz wonders if she really was murdered.

‘Between’ is the new paranormal YA novel from Jessica Warman.

I was a little nervous going into ‘Between’. I had just finished reading Gayle Forman’s gut-wrenching ‘If I Stay’, and didn’t know if my heart could take another slog through such depressing subject matter. Both are books about a girl observing her family and friends in the wake of disaster and loss – and both books involve the girls visiting flashbacks and distant memories to piece themselves back together again. But these are only superficial plot similarities . . . luckily for my weary heart, ‘Between’ and ‘If I Stay’ are two books exploring death and resolution in very, very different ways.

‘Between’ kicks-off with Liz’s eerie discovery. She wakes up from a drunken stupor aboard her father’s boat, where she and her closes friends were ringing in her birthday. What wakes Liz is a persistent thumping against the side of the boat . . . but when she goes to investigate what she thinks is a caught fish, she instead sees her bloated form with steel-tipped cowboy boots thunking against the hull. It’s a brilliant opener – equal parts intriguing and spine-tingling, and it hooked me into the story straight away.

Liz is our narrator, and she’s a ghost. We remain with her as she listens in on the investigation of her murder – a local cop called Joe who thinks it strange that there have been two suspicious teen deaths in the small, affluent town of Noank – first a hit-and-run victim called Alex Berg, and now pretty and popular Elizabeth Valchar. Meanwhile, Alex is a ghostly accomplice to Liz’s afterlife, following her as she observes friends and family attend her funeral and then grieve throughout the school year. At the same time, both Liz and Alex back-track through their respective memories, trying to piece together their deaths.

In revisiting her life, Liz comes to the unsettling realization that she wasn’t a nice person. She was obsessed with being at the top of the popular totem pole, and she didn’t care who she trampled on to get there. Now, in death, Liz is mortified at how her friends and classmates remember her – even while visiting her grave, her best friend can’t help but be torn about her passing.

She shudders. ‘It’s horrible. Everything’s terrible without you.’ She pauses. ‘But it was terrible even when you were around. I know it sounds crazy, but for months before you died, it’s almost like there was this . . . this sense that something bad was going to happen.’
She picks up her pom-poms, gives them a shake to get rid of the leaves that have got caught in the plastic. ‘I don’t know why, but when I heard Mera scream that morning, I knew something terrible had happened to you. I just knew.’
Then she bows her head, says a quick, quiet prayed and crosses herself with a pom-pom. ‘You were falling apart before you died, Liz. Everybody could tell. I hope things are better for you now. They sure are awful around here.’

But it’s not all hating in the afterlife. Liz’s boyfriend and father really did love her, and now they’re struggling in her absence. And ‘Between’ isn’t just a lesson in morality. Warman has also interwoven several mysteries throughout the book – mainly concerning Alex and Liz’s respective deaths. But there’s also a mystery in the passing of Liz’s mother – a woman who suffered and eventually died from anorexia nervosa when Liz was nine years old. For years people thought that Liz’s mother was stressed and starved because of her father’s obvious affair with Nicole, the woman who would become Liz’s step-mother after her real mother’s death. Liz and Josie were always BFFs, so when Nicole and Liz’s dad married the two girls thought they were gaining sisters. But in recounting her memories, Liz starts to see something far more sinister and heartbreaking in Nicole and her father’s poisonous relationship. . .

Some things didn’t work for me in this book. Like Liz being seemingly blasé about her boyfriend, Richie, and step-sister, Josie, hooking up. I thought she’d be a lot angrier, a lot more hurt. But Liz maintains that she and Richie had a great romance, and that she and Josie were sisters-for-life besties. She reasons and justifies their coupling, and it just didn’t ring true and the anger needed to be there. For that reason, I didn’t really connect with the romance of ‘Between’, which is clearly meant to be between Richie and Liz.

‘Between’ is very plot-heavy, which actually works well with the otherwise depressing story of a deceased girl doing the ghostly walk-around after her death. We’ve had the depressing limbo novels, ‘If I Stay’ and ‘The Lovely Bones’ among them. So it’s really refreshing to read a book that handles popular-girl-morality and teen death with equal amounts sadness and self-reflection, but with a healthy dose of interesting whodunit.


1 comment:

  1. I have this one and haven't read it yet for the exact reason you mention: I'm afraid it's going to be too heavy. Glad to see you liked it, the whodunit should make for an interesting twist.


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