November 11, 2015

Jessica Warman: "Between"

Title: Between [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None - but you can read a short spin-off story (that takes place a few years after the events recounted in this book) here. Honestly, it falls a bit flat...
Author: Jessica Warman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Contemporary, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2011
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Rich story where the characters are peeled off layer by layer. Ghosts revisiting their past is a format that never gets old.
Cons: Even if some of them actually learn a few lessons along the way (dead ones included) and/or had it rough, characters are difficult to empathise with.
WARNING! Doing/selling drugs and the sexual exploitation of a minor are referenced, albeit not actually described. Eating disorder and the tragic death of a parent are portrayed in detail. The story also features drunk driving (and its fatal outcome).
Will appeal to: Those who like problem books and don't shun disturbing themes. Those who don't mind deeply flawed characters.

Blurb: Elizabeth Valchar - pretty, popular, perfect - wakes up after spending her eighteenth birthday party on her family's yacht to investigate a thumping noise. What she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz herself, was perfect - or innocent. (Amazon)

Review: This is one of those difficult books to review. On one hand, I did like the story (especially the trips to the past, that may not be regarded as time travel instances technically, but retain the feel of them) and I do think it's important that certain themes aren't glossed over in YA fiction. On the other, nearly everyone in this story is flawed or damaged, our heroine included, which makes for a bumpy trip. And I can't entirely buy the excuse for some of those flaws, because to me, not even a tragedy of the lack of love in your life can totally account for your becoming a bad or shallow person. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I don't have anything to back it with - but it explains my issues with this story.
Liz is your average rich and bratty teen, who, after celebrating her 18th birthday party with a selected group of friends, wakes up dead, with no clue of how it happened. While still processing the harsh reality of her new state, Liz finds that she has company in death: Alex, one of the unpopular kids at school, who died a year before in a driving accident. Given their opposite social statuses, the two of them have never been friends, and Liz - who, on top of everything, can't seem to remember vital pieces of her past - is not thrilled about spending the aftermath of her own death in such company. Not to mention, Alex's demeanor toward her is considerably bitter. Nevertheless, there must be a reason why death paired them together, and it's up to them to solve the mystery, along with the one regarding Liz's death...
Now, like I said, I did like this story, especially the parts where Liz and Alex get to revisit moments of their past. They have a nice time-travel feel, and with Liz (who narrates the story) we also experiment a juxtaposition of her past and present self, getting a double perspective while she realises the wrongs in what she did - or others did to her. But as a ghost, Liz is also given the chance to uncover several unexpected (and painful) secrets about her fake-perfect family and friends, and herself too, which may ultimately hold the key to her untimely death - not to mention, to the reason why she's still stuck on Earth with an unlikely companion... [...]