Book Review: The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George

difference

My wife’s grandmother sent my wife this book a couple of weeks ago. My wife read it in a day, and then passed it to me and said “You should read this book.” See, my wife’s grandmother is also grandmother to writer Carley Moore, who is thanked in the acknowledgements of The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George, who is Carley’s very good friend. And grandmothers, you know, will pass along to the rest of the family, anything where their grandchildren are mentioned. That’s what they do. My wife passed this to me because it’s a Young Adult book, with strong female characters. I write a lot of YA, and I’m always ruminating that I have a hard time writing teenage female characters because a) I never was one, and b) I never understood them in real life when I was a teenage boy.

In The Difference Between You and Me, Jesse is a rebellious, misfit, lesbian, high-school sophomore, who cuts her hair with a Swiss Army knife, and wears fishing boots to school every day. Emily is the student council vice-president, a true believer in school spirit and in her ability to please just about everyone, all the time. In public, Jesse and Emily are oil and water, but in private, they are more oil and flame. This can’t last. The reader knows it, and the characters know it. Something has to change.

I couldn’t help, as I read this book, to picture some of the cast from the TV show Glee as the characters in the book. Skip past the rest of this paragraph if you don’t like to have set ideas of who the characters are like when you start a book…. I saw Diana Agron as Emily. Chris Colfer as Jesse’s flamboyant gay friend, Wyatt. Cory Monteith as Emily’s boyfriend, Mike. I couldn’t picture Jesse though, except maybe as someone I knew from high school. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character like her on TV or film. I’m always interested in hearing who the authors thought the characters were like. I wonder how close I am in my guess.

This isn’t the typical book I read (I seem to be saying this a lot lately), but I read it in a single day. It’s a quick read, even as a 350+ page hardback. The writing speeds you along from scene to scene, back and forth between the two main characters, and one other, Esther, a peacenik outcast who loves the story of Joan of Arc. The book is unusual, in that Jesse’s story is told in third-person present tense, and Emily and Esther’s stories are told in first-person present tense. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially since Jesse is more of a main character that the other two. I’ve never seen this technique used before, except in prologues or epilogues. But it does work. It actually made me wonder if there wasn’t a hidden intent by the author to show that these three girls were actually just one girl, trying to reconcile two aspects of her life she kept hidden from the public.

If you like YA, or want to see an example of an unusual narration style, I’d definitely recommend The Difference Between You and Me. It’s definitely on the YA Chick-lit side of the spectrum, but I liked it. It’s worth checking out.

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