By Barbara Stewart
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)
Sometimes I'm just not sure how I feel about a book. Barbara Stewart's debut THE IN-BETWEEN is one of those rare books. Elanor Moss, her mother, and father were in a car wreck on their way to their new home. Ellie and one of her parents survived. But ever since the accident, Ellie's been seeing this girl, Madeline, around - her other half, who has a plan for her.
I liked the unreliability of the narrator. There's a question of whether the things happening are supernatural, all in Ellie's head, or some combination of both. Ellie has a family history of depression and a recent tragic event, on top of a friendship that went horribly awry and led to a suicide attempt in her old hometown. Ellie needs help, but it's hard to know what kind of help she needs.
The writing is wonderfully poetic and creates a terrific atmosphere. THE IN-BETWEEN is well suited to more elaborate prose, reflecting the chaos in Ellie's head and the confusing atmosphere. It's a nice atmosphere, one that portends bad things coming, but also offers hope for Ellie.
But did I enjoy THE IN-BETWEEN? Not that much. I read it quite quickly because I didn't feel an urge to linger over the words, no matter how pretty they are. I had my ideas about what was real and what wasn't fairly early, and I cared more about what would happen next than deciphering the veracity of Ellie's journals. At the same time, I felt there was a lot to enjoy about THE IN-BETWEEN.
This book didn't work for me. But I'm glad I read it, because I always enjoy books that take chances. THE IN-BETWEEN is a strange book. I think that makes it less suited to wide audiences, but at the same time will make it more meaningful for the people it clicks with. I'm not sure I've read another YA novel that approached (probable) mental illness quite like this. And I just want to love books that are ambitious, even if they fall short.
If THE IN-BETWEEN sounds like your kind of thing, give it a read. If not, it isn't essential.