March 10, 2015

Review: Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines By Jo Knowles
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Each chapter in READ BETWEEN THE LINES follows a different person.  Most of the narrators are in an elective lit class at the high school, but some are more tangential - neighbors, friends, siblings.  The stories aren't in chronological order, although they mostly take place on the same day.  The cast of characters quickly becomes familiar, providing a connection point.

Jo Knowles does a wonderful job of differentiating her large cast of narrators.  Some are foul mouthed and some are embarrassed by how far they go to avoid even thinking bad words.  Some are angry, some are confused, and most of them are hurting in some ways.  I didn't like all of the narrators, but Knowles did a wonderful job of making each of them the star when it was their turn to speak.  I did sometimes regret that READ BETWEEN THE LINES never returned to some narrators, because I wanted to know what happens next. 

READ BETWEEN THE LINES is a very quick read, as well as one that is easy to pick up and put down as needed due to its nature as a series of vignettes.  At the same time, Knowles manages to find impressive depths to her characters during those scenes.  Almost all of them are at flashpoints, trying to figure out who they are and where they're going.  It doesn't feel unnatural that a large group of teenagers are preoccupied with those questions.  It also helps that there's a lot going on besides inner reflection - heart attacks, scams, hit and runs, sexual assault, hoarding, parental abandonment, abuse, sexuality crises, and more are all factors in various stories.

While READ BETWEEN THE LINES feels fairly light, there is quite a bit of heavy content, as the list in the preceding paragraph shows.  I think it is appropriate for younger readers, but there's plenty there for an adult to start a conversation with them about after.  The variety of narrators means that there's someone for almost every reader to identify with, although there could be more diversity.  (There is a gay storyline and a "fat" girl who is clearly no more than ten pounds overweight, but still being shamed for it and struggling with her self image and confidence.)

I enjoyed READ BETWEEN THE LINES.  It is clearly written and smoothly told.  It is fun to put the pieces of different stories together, especially since all of them are entertaining on their own merits.

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