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... [...]

Now, let me tell you this: there's almost no character in this story who isn't to blame for something. Warman works hard at giving at least a redeeming quality to most of them, and while you're reading you can almost buy it - but then you close the book and think "THAT'S NOT ENOUGH". A devoted boyfriend doubling as drug dealer? A loving dad too consumed by his job to save his own daughter from becoming anorexic? A grieving friend with financial problems at home who steals your money and spends it on a prom dress? Um, no. I wasn't able to condone any of those things, while - on the other hand - they didn't manage to make the story lose its appeal. My problem was, I couldn't forgive the characters for what they did (or didn't do) to the extent of developing warm feelings toward them. I liked their story, but I didn't like any of them. Except for the only two innocent ones (no names given!), but even those I wasn't able to love for some reason.
On a side note, one of my small pet peeves against Between is that Liz and his boyfriend have been a couple since they were 12 (and before that, they've known each other for their whole life or so) and never had actual sex. I find it a bit difficult to swallow, especially since Liz is always raving about their unconditional love. But the plot needs it for reasons I can't delve into, so I'll let it pass...
Another problem I have with this story is that there's no solid reason why Liz shouldn't have figured out what happened to her in the first five minutes or so. When she finds out that she can revisit her past, why can't she immediately focus on her group of friends in a way that lets her recall her last moments? Of course, there would be no book without that - but you get my meaning. I guess she needed to uncover the mystery of her relationship with Alex first. But Alex himself being silent about it is...difficult to buy.
This is a fairly long book, at almost 440 pages, but never gets boring. From a certain point on, the mystery regarding Liz and Alex's connection is not particularly hard to fathom, nor is her killer - but this doesn't detract from the story IMO. As a fan of afterlife novels and mysteries, I found this one rich and enjoyable, despite my reservations about the characters.

For more Afterlife books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Sarah. J. Schmitt: "It's a Wonderful Death". 

Left to right: Paperback cover; a cover I saved when I first read this novel (I don't know which format it related to anymore); Italian cover (why they renamed the book using a different English word beats me...maybe they thought we would get it better...Also, red dress? White cowgirl boots, maybe...since they ARE in the story)


  1. It's difficult when you can't connect to any of the characters. It's a fine line between flawed and completely unrelatable.

    You need at least one person to root for - even if they are flawed. IMO anyway.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. Sometimes you don't feel the connection like you're supposed to...this doesn't mean that you don't appreciate the plot (for me at least), but the story ultimately lacks that spark because of it. This been said, I did like this one :). Just didn't love it.

  2. I've seen this book around, and while the cover always catches my eye, I've never actually bought it or checked it out. I think I made the right decision. ;)

    1. Well, I suppose a die-hard afterlife novel fan like me has more chances to appreciate this story ;). The cover is indeed great...a bit metaphysical, but it fits.

  3. I always hate when I can't connect to any of the characters. Sometimes the plot saves the story, but for the most part I find it sooo difficult to get through a book that has meh characters. Although, this book sounds kind of interesting. I might have to check it out!

    Great review, Roberta c:

    1. Thanks! For the record, the characters here are not's just that I couldn't put myself in their shoes.


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