Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: Between You & Me by Marisa Calin

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 dazzling debut, and unanswered questions—is "you" male or female?—will have readers talking.

Between You & Me is a fascinating, innovative novel written in screenplay format.  However, unlike a traditional screenplay written in third person, this novel is written in first person and the narrator, Phyre, addresses her friend only as “you” throughout the book.  As a result, the book is almost like a letter from Phyre to her friend.  I found the screenplay format really quick, easy, and interesting to read, and it worked perfectly in a book about a young aspiring actress taking her first acting class and performing in her first play.  However, I have taken script writing classes and even written a few screenplays, so I can imagine that readers unfamiliar with the form might find it a bit difficult at first.  For me, though, the form worked almost like verse, distilling the story to its most important and emotional moments.

A lot of this story centered on Phyre’s crush on her young, glamorous, female teacher, Mia.  Phyre has dated boys in the past and is confused by her feelings; at one point she says she’s not sure if she wants to be with Mia, or just be her.  This rang very true to me, as I remember having intense relationships with my female friends as a teenager that completely confused me—part of me wanted to be these girls, and part of me wanted to be close to them in a way that somehow seemed more intimate than friendship.  I think this is a pretty common experience among adolescent girls, and it isn’t explored enough in YA lit, so I was really glad to see it handled so well in this book.

This novel also explores gender through the fact that Phyre’s friend, addressed only as “you,” could be either male or female.  So many small exchanges between Phyre and “you” in the book could be interpreted differently based on whether “you” is male or female.  It makes the reader realize just how much gender influences our perception of people’s actions and relationships.

Finally, I have to mention that Calin’s writing is vivid, poetic, and beautiful.  My only small quibble is that I wish Phyre’s parents had been given a slightly larger role in the story.  Overall, I highly recommend Between You & Me.

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