Thursday, June 16, 2011

Between by Jessica Warman

Elizabeth Valchar — pretty, popular, and rich — wakes up the morning after her eighteenth 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 Liz was following in her mother’s footsteps. But something more sinister was consuming Liz from the inside out.

When I received this book at BEA, I first thought it was another book - I’m not sure why, it was a long day - so when I brought it home and read the back of it and realised that it wasn’t a fantasy novel I was a bit cautious. While I step outside of fantasy novels every once in awhile, it’s mostly on recommendations or because I’ve heard great buzz about it, so going with no buzz and no expectation I started to read Between.

I was blown away.

Jessica Warman spins the tale of a high schooler named Elizabeth. Liz is pretty, rich, popular, dating a popular boy at school and at the top of the high school social food chain. Liz is a runner. Liz has a secret. Liz is dead.

When Liz awakes to her death she finds that she cannot remember the events leading up to her body being found face down in the water near her parent’s boat. 

The biggest thing that struck me about Between was how much I disliked Liz. Yet, I still wanted to hear what she had to say; this is a balance that I don’t often find in books where I dislike the protagonist. Jessica Warman kept the mystery alive long enough to see past Liz’s superficialness and realise that she was a living and hurting teenager just like the people she tormented in her life. Joining her in her death is Alex, a boy from her school who died the year before. In her life she would never be caught dead with him - death is indeed the great equalizer.

As their time together unfolds, Jessica paints a portrait of the life of Alex and Liz through Liz’s eyes. After a point I started to like Liz as a character. She is more complex than we are initially lead to believe and these complexities all tie into the path that leads to her death.

The more I read, the faster I wanted to get to the resolution, while, at the same time, not wanting it to end. The writing is gripping, and as the mystery slowly unraveled, the depth of the players are revealed as well. Yes, you might be able to figure it out before the big reveal, but it was the character development and the emotions that came bursting through the pages that was the most fascinating part of this novel. I could almost close my eyes and see high school again.

Once the story was over and the book was closed I still carried the characters around in my head. It shook me a bit, how easily life can be taken away, how delicate a world we live in and how much the things we think matter don’t matter at all when we die. Sobering, Between is a must-read.

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