I’m making my way through these ARC’s from New Orleans! Though, this one only comes out in a few days (August 2nd). This book’s back cover made it sound a lot like Oliver’s Before I Fall, which I reviewed not too long ago. And I wasn’t quite as in love with Oliver’s first book as everyone else seemed to be. So, I was not thinking that I would be in love with this book either. I was wrong. I loved it.
In my last entry, I mentioned a sub-genre of YA dystopia, and here I am again thinking of a whole new genre for YA fiction: death. I’d put this book on lists with Before I Fall, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and even the adult book (that all teens seem to read) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
Truth be told, Between read like a mixture of Before I Fall and Thirteen Reasons Why. It had the exact same concept (minus the Groundhogs day repetition) of Oliver’s book, and the twists and turn/mystery of Asher’s book.
It’s about Elizabeth Valchar, a girl who wakes up the day after her 18th birthday only to discover her own dead body floating in the water, next to her family’s yacht. Liz is sort of stuck in this between place, along with another teen, Alex, who died about a year ago. The two teens learn that they only have certain memories of their actual lives, and spend most of their time getting caught in memories of their lives, experiencing bits and pieces of their childhoods and teen years as if for the first time. They also watch the lives of those closest to them. Liz learns that her best friend/step sister goes after her own soul mate/boyfriend (who happens to be a drug dealer). She watches her father become more and more depressed, spending his days on the yacht, thinking of Liz and Liz’s mother who also died too young.
They don’t watch a lot of Alex’s life except maybe a few moments because it become clear immediately that he does not like Liz very much. You learn that Liz and her group of popular, wealthy friends did not always treat Alex kindly. And as the book goes on, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is a reason for Alex and Liz spending their between time together. Also, there were a lot things going on in Liz’s life that led up to her death. The book deals with some heavy, dark YA themes. There’s one scene where Liz remembers coming across her mother’s dead body. She was only 9 at the time. Teens die. All the girls, particularly Liz and her dead mother have eating disorders. Topics of drugs, drinking and driving, feeling invincible, falling in love, money, and black mail weave together a murder mystery that I figured out a little too soon.
Another major point of the book is the mystery surrounding Liz’s stepsister. The whole town thinks they are actually half sisters because it is widely known that Liz’s father started dating her stepmom right after the death of her mother. And most believe they were having an affair before her death. Liz’s mom starved herself to death, and most people also think Liz starves herself. And there are all these beautifully detailed moments where Liz watches her friends and how they each individually deal with loss. She attends her own funeral. She’s there when her parents get the phone call to come to the yacht. She’s there when her stepsister goes to the formal dance with her boyfriend. And as much as the book is about the mystery and the other characters dealing with Liz’s death, it’s also about Liz letting go, forgiving people, forgiving herself, and allowing herself to move on.
What I loved most: how everything happens in pieces, in 2-minute memories, and overheard conversations. I also loved the friendship between the two dead teens: Alex and Liz. I especially loved how I never felt preached to. From what I read, yes, I can tell drugs and alcohol are a bad mix, that one should never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking, and that it’s always better to talk to someone then let yourself be blackmailed or taken advantage of. But, even though I learned all these things, and teens will learn them too while reading, the message is never too obvious. For instance, the drunk driving thing becomes clear when a girl refuses to get into a limo with a chauffer who is buzzed, even though all her friends are whining at her to go. Readers are never told to just not do things in a blatantly obvious way. And one of the best characters, (Richie) the boyfriend, is a drug dealer. And there’s a lot of grey area between the black and white of right and wrong. The teens are always describing themselves as good kids.
What I didn’t like: how clear one particular character’s intentions were from the beginning. I mean I was not surprised enough in the outcome of the murder, and I wished I was little more surprised. But, this can sort of be a good thing too because it shows that people aren’t always who you expect them to be or that sometimes outsiders looking in are a better judge of character. Also, sometimes the author’s memory flashbacks were worded too similarly. Liz would remember something and then say something like, “I was in 9th grade.” And then, “I know this because…” You don’t need to keep explaing that “she knows this because”. By the 10th memory or so, I trust that she knows why she was in 9th grade. I don’t need to know it’s because the Cliff Notes of a certain Shakespeare play on her table. I believe her.
I give this book a 9/10, and I really recommend it to fans of Lauren Oliver and Jay Asher. In a way, I think it’s sort of like a better version of Before I Fall because I don’t have to deal with the repetition, and for some reason, despite the fact that Liz is kind of prissy, I like her more as a main character than Oliver’s main character. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger YA readers because of how dark certain aspects are (particularly the whole blackmailing thing), but on the other hand, it could work as an excellent book for reluctant readers because it deals with a lot of serious issues teens love to read about.