Between, by Jessica Warman

18 Mar

2011, Walker Children’s Books, ISBN 978-0802721822

Plot Summary: Elizabeth Valchar wakes up the morning after her 18th birthday party to discover a body floating in the water. The rest of her party is fast asleep on her father’s yacht – a small group of friends, her stepsister, Josie, and boyfriend, Richie. Elizabeth doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but it becomes all too clear soon enough: the body is Elizabeth’s. She is dead but able to see her family and friends – she’s between two worlds, the world of the living and the dead.

Elizabeth meets another Betweener, a schoolmate named Alex who was killed in a hit and run. Together, they shift between past memories and the present, where Elizabeth learns that she and her popular group of friends weren’t the “nice kids” she believed they were: they were entitled, means, and bullied their other classmates, including Alex. Reviewing her life gives her perspective she never had and allows insight into things she never knew about: things like her mother’s death from anorexia, her stepmother’s campaign to take her mother’s place, and Josie’s attempts to do the same thing to Elizabeth. As the two teens shift between past and present, muddled events become clearer and Elizabeth realizes that the awful secret she has been running from is the same secret that ties her and Alex together. She must solve the mystery surrounding her own death and unravel why Alex is so angry with her before she can move on.

Critical Evaluation: Between is a compulsively readable book with cross-genre appeal. It is a murder mystery and a paranormal with elements of realistic fiction as Ms. Warman illlustrates the conflict between the popular rich students and the working-class and poor students. The reader witnesses bullying, drug use, and alcoholism from the so-called “good” kids, the rich kids who have everything, and sees how empty their lives are underneath the surface. Even Elizabeth, her family’s golden girl, was heading down a path similar to her mother’s, cultivating an eating disorder and allowing herself to be manipulated by her popular friends. Jessica Warman has a lot to say in Between.

Reviews: Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books: It’s been a while since The Lovely Bones was in every high school backpack; this is a strong contender to take its place..”

Booklist: (starred review) “A perfect read for teens who like complex characters.”

Kirkus Reviews: “That readers will like her ghostly persona despite her unpleasant living one is testament to Warman’s skill. A rich and compelling character study wrapped around a mystery.”

Awards: No awards.

Reader’s Annotation: Elizabeth Valchar finds her own body floating in the Long Island Sound after her 18th birthday party – but how did she get there? And why is she stuck between being alive and dead?

Author Information: Jessica Warman’s author website links to her blog, provides information about her novels, and includes an FAQ.

Genre: Mystery. Subgenres: Supernatural/paranormal, Friendship, Family.

Booktalking Ideas: Elizabeth Valchar believes that she and her friends are “good kids” and that they have it all – money, looks, the best clothes, and the best homes. But we see, as she experiences her life in memories, that this is far from the case. Do you think that money equates happiness? Why or why not? What would have made Elizabeth happier than money?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15-18.

Challenge Issues/Defense: Drug and alcohol use, mild sexuality, supernatural elements. Defense: The behavior of the “popular kids” in the book is a developing trope in teen lit that is somewhat influenced by what is going on in middle and high schools today. Further, their behavior is not considered acceptable at all, and can even be seen, in a moral sense, as a secret shame to them. As for the supernatural elements, this is a paranormal/fantasy tale and is not preaching any sort of belief system.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

It was an interesting story by an ALA award-winning author (Ms. Warman’s book, Breathless, was an ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults). I know that paranormal stories are popular among teens right now, but this looked at the paranormal beyond vampires vs. werewolves and merged it into a morality tale of sorts.


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