Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: Between You & Me by Marisa Calin

Between You & MeDescription: Phyre knows there is something life-changing about her new drama teacher, Mia, from the moment they meet. As Phyre rehearses for the school play, she comes to realize that the unrequited feelings she has for Mia go deeper than she’s ever experienced. Especially with a teacher. Or a woman. All the while, Phyre’s best friend—addressed throughout the story in the second person, as "you"—stands by, ready to help Phyre make sense of her feelings. But just as Mia doesn't understand what Phyre feels, Phyre can’t fathom the depth of her best friend’s feelings . . . until it’s almost too late for a happy ending. 

Characters come to life through the innovative screenplay format of this debut, and unanswered questions—is "you" male or female?—will have readers talking.

Stats: Young Adult, 242 pages, First Published by Bloomsbury USA Children, August 2012.

My Rating: 1 STAR

I finished Between You & Me with a bad taste in my mouth. Now all I can wonder is how could I have been so wrong? The short of it is that Between You & Me was incredibly disappointing.

Let's start with what positives there were. Between You & Me has the unique distinction of being written in script format. In my opinion, it is very well executed. The format combines everything that a fluid narrative has along with having all the dialogue being like it is in a script. It's nice to look at and very quick to read. However, will it be this way for everyone? Maybe not. I'm approaching this as someone who already has a love for the format. If you've read books in the past that used email or chat logs and those aspects didn't work for you then neither will this.   

Another positive for me was the concept. Because the dialogue is a script and the narrative is in 1st person we get to have a character that is referred to only as "You". This "You" character clearly has a crush on our main character Phyre, but in the story has no assigned gender. While reading, my mind was overjoyed by this concept in practice! It allowed me to play with the character bouncing back and forth between thinking "You" is male or female. This effects the tone of the story and gives an interactive element that I enjoyed in a chose your own adventure sort of way.

Unfortunately, this is where the positives end and the negatives begin. And boy is it about to get negative.

YA Romance is a genre that can be incredibly underappreciated when it comes to storytelling and sometimes rightfully so. Just because you have a love story, doesn't mean you have a love story. However, I've always enjoyed reading YA romance, because a lot of the time love stories are also relationship stories. In the first 100 pages of Between You & Me I was surprised that beyond Phyre's crushing there was nothing else going on. I kept waiting for something more. Family? Humour? Drama? Romantic happenings? Personal growth? Sexuality? I kept waiting for something to develop, but all I got was this young girl experiencing a crush. 

Do you remember what it's like to have a crush on someone? Although crushes feel all amazing and nerve-wracking when you're experiencing them they're actually pretty dull. A crush is the act of wanting someone, of being attracted to them, and not knowing what to do next. This means we get an entire 250 pages with our main character wanting and wishing but never doing anything about it. You're feelings can't be unrequited if you've never acted on them to begin with. (I'm looking at you back of book blurb from person who I don't remember that mentioned unrequited love. I'm looking at you and judging your judgement!)

Maybe this sort of story can be captivating to those who are still experiencing these sort of roller-coaster emotions. Maybe, god forbid, I'm too old for crushes. I prefer relationships and courting to the wishing and wanting I experienced as a young girl. (I've grown up! Ahhhh!) However, I should still be able to relate to this, especially because the story focuses around a straight teen girl developing a crush on her female teacher.  

When I started the book I had assumed (wrongly) that it would be about teen sexuality. With the concept so focused on gender and sexual preferences I had assumed (still wrong) that this was a look at the "Q" of LGBTQ. Which it was, kind of. Almost all teenagers these days experience having to ask themselves: What if I'm gay? What if I'm bi? What does it mean if I like someone who is the same gender as me, even though I'm straight? It's too bad that none of these questions are asked in Between You & Me. 

Scroll back to that book description, tell me that it doesn't sound like that is what I should have expected. Phyre does have a crush on her female teacher and it is a new experience for her, but in the entire book she probably only thinks about the implication of her affections for about a page, maybe a page and a half. Most of the time we just get the play by play of her crushing. We get to know all about how Mia looks today and her every move and sigh, but nothing of substance. 

That's what really got me. I was surprised by how much thought Phyre put into every small, meaningless event, but when it came to her sexuality she never even stressed it. I'm under the impression that this is the first time Phyre has possibly been emotionally and physically attracted to the same sex and yet she hardly thinks about it! The one good moment of insight is when she say, out of nowhere, that she doesn't know if she wants to be Mia or wants to kiss Mia. That is incredibly interesting! I wish the whole book had rolled with that idea of distinguishing idolism from romantic feelings. Maybe Phyre's crush on her teacher is the same as my crush on Emma Stone. These "girl crushes" are more appreciation then lust. But Between You & Me never goes into these concepts beyond mentioning them. I hate to say this, but I feel like sexuality was used more as a story gimmick then a serious aspect of the story being told. 

I just didn't care for this book. Beyond the issues I had with the story being told I maybe could have liked this if the pacing hadn't sucked out any of the caring I had in me. 

When I read a book that just doesn't have good pacing, I always hope that it'll pick up eventually. Maybe in the next 20 pages something will happen and things will finally get off the ground! Maybe in the next 20 pages! ... Well, maybe this event here will spiral into something! Maybe this boring conversation has some sort of consequences down the road! I hoped that each non-event was going to build up to something until I got more and more hopeless.

I left this book frustrated and upset, which sucks because I was actually looking forward to this one. This is Marisa Calin's debut novel and I never wish to have this sort of experience with a debut. What drew me to the book and what I ended up enjoying about it is how experimental it is. This isn't something I've seen before and risk taking is not something you see a lot of in a publishing market that is desperately trying to follow the trends. I appreciate Between You & Me for what it attempted, but not enough to give it a pass. The negatives completely outweigh the positives. 

Also, PHYRE? As in FIRE? No. I'm not convinced anyone aside from Beyoncé and Jay-Z would name a child this. No. Suspension of disbelief ruined!

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