As I have recently begun reading more fiction written for young adults and I generally read Jodi Picoult’s novels as she publishes them, I was rather intrigued by the fact that Picoult and her teenage daughter, Samantha van Leer, recently wrote and published a book together.
Between the Lines is a charming book, and a nice break from the normal Picoult offerings. Her books tend towards taking serious issues of the day and heartbreaking medical issues, usually involving children, and dramatizing them to the point that I sometimes feel as though I am being emotionally manipulated as I read them. This one though, goes in the complete opposite direction and merely deals with the idea of “happy ever after.”
The novel tells the tale of young Delilah, whose father left her mother when she was very young and started a new family in Australia. Though she now a teenager, she often seeks solace in the pages of her favorite fairy tale. Between the Lines, also the title of the fairy tale featured in the novel, is the story of a not-so-brave prince, Oliver, whose father was killed when he was an infant. Oliver, though lacking the normal princely bravado, finds himself in a situation where he must outsmart trolls, mermaids, dragons and other mythical creatures to save the lovely maid Seraphima.
Delilah is drawn to both the happy ending and to the main character—she feels a bond with the also fatherless Oliver. Things change when the character goes from figuratively “speaking to her” to literally speaking to her—as in, holding actual conversations.
Despite how it may sound (and how it appears to her poor mother,) Delilah is not going insane. As it turns out, when the pages of the fairy tale are open, the players of the tale are in full character, going through the motions and acting out the plot over and over and over again. When the book is shut, however, the characters are “off the clock.” The evil villain Rapscullio is actually a decent chap who collects butterflies and paints. The boy-crazy mermaids are hard-core feminists. And Prince Oliver is tired of being entrapped in this world and forced to reenact the same tale for the rest of his days. So, he reaches out to Delilah, who is so emotionally involved with the book and its characters that she can actually hear him when he cries out for help.
The book is arranged into segments, utilizing Picoult’s normal method of telling the tale from multiple viewpoints. This time, we hear from Delilah and Oliver in turn. We are also treated to occasional segments from the text of the fairy tale itself and to some really stunning illustrations featuring the standard fairy tale fare of princes, dragons, mermaids and more. These full color illustrations, done by Yvonne Gilbert, make the book worthwhile. The story itself is a relaxing if not incredibly complex read—we follow the pair as they first fall in love and then work to find a method to get Oliver out of the book. (With some intriguing scenes featuring Delilah inside the book as well.)
The actual action and plot of the story is not nearly intriguing as the concept itself. It does make you wonder what exactly goes on with your favorite characters when the book is closed. I have often wondered the same thing—not so much in envisioning them playing chess or baking pies while the book is closed, but more imagining what my favorite characters would make of our world and what it would be like to spend a day with them.
I did actually enjoy this book more than I have enjoyed some of Jodi Picoult’s latest adult novels. Samantha van Leer, a junior in high school, pitched the idea of this story to her mother and convinced her to collaborate on the project with her. The story is a fascinating one, and I was glad to read it, but I’m also a tad jealous that I don’t have such an easy entrée into the publishing world!
Regardless, it is a good summer read for adults and young adults alike.