Prolific and best-selling adult fiction author Jodi Picoult has teamed up with her teenage daughter, Samantha van Leer, to write a young adult fantasy novel that is unlike anything else I’ve read by Picoult, or by the usual YA fantasy authors.
The premise of "Between the Lines" is quite “meta”: a teenage girl, Delilah, falls in love with a character in a book (also called "Between the Lines," and written by the fictional Jessamyn Jacobs), a fairy-tale prince named Oliver. The infatuated couple -- after finding out that Oliver can actually talk to Delilah when the book is open to page 43, where Oliver is alone -- spend the entire novel trying various schemes to free him from the pages of the book and to bring him, intact and flesh-and-blood, into the real world.
It turns out that so-called fictional characters have a life of their own when the pages of a book are shut. Prince Oliver isn’t really in love with Princess Seraphima, whom he has to rescue over and over again every time anyone reads the book. And the other characters in the story also differ significantly from the roles they play in Ms. Jacobs’s fairy tale. Seraphima, the beautiful princess, is as dumb as a post. Rapscullio, the villain, collects butterflies in his spare time.
I can see how teens who have never read or seen anything along these lines (Pirandello’s "Six Characters in Search of an Author," or maybe the TV show "Once Upon a Time") might find the idea intriguing. And the romance in the book is sweet and innocent, especially since Delilah and Oliver can’t really figure out for most of the novel how to even touch each other, let alone get together in the same dimension/universe. However, there was something about this particular take on the "star-crossed lovers scenario" that I just couldn’t quite embrace, so to speak.
For one thing, there’s almost no religious or moral content to the book at all. There’s a nod to modesty as a virtue when the fairy-tale characters are shocked at Delilah’s clothing choices, a T-shirt and shorts. To them it looks as if she’s practically wearing nothing but her underwear. But the closest the book comes to having a real message or even a theme are the repeated ideas that we should be loyal to our friends and that true love ought to win out in the end, even if it doesn’t always. Delilah is a good girl for the most part, though rather unpopular at school because of a couple of unfortunate accidents that injured the head cheerleader. Oliver is a good prince. So the idea is that they deserve to have a happy ending and get together.
I liked Delilah. She’s a loner, with only one good friend, and she’s obsessed with a children’s fairy tale. I can identify. I liked Oliver, too. He’s a prince whose life is all planned out for him, and he’s desperate to escape from the monotony of living a fairy-tale life over and over again with no choices and no future beyond “happily ever after.” He feels trapped. Again, I can identify. We all feel a little imprisoned at times. But the idea that “everyone deserves a happy ending” is sort of cheesy, and not all that accurate. Really, as a friend once told me, we don’t deserve much of anything that we get. It’s all grace.
The writing in this one is adequate. The plot is serviceable, but not always terribly convincing. I never could follow how the schemes for releasing Oliver from the confines of his bookish existence were supposed to work.
Still, the characters of Delilah and Oliver might just pull a reader through to that happy ending. A few readers might even fall in love with Picoult/Van Leer’s "Between the Lines," just as Delilah falls in love with Jessamyn Jacobs’s version.
Image copyright Emily Bestler Books/Atria/Simon Pulse. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's local library.
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