The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Released March 15, 2012.
Jesse wears fishing boots every day. She cuts her hair short and rough with a Swiss Army knife. She spends her time writing manifestos for her National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos and then papering the high school with them. Emily is one of the popular girls and vice president of the student council. She wears her hair in a ponytail, likes sweaters with buttons, and has a boyfriend. So what in the world could Jesse and Emily have in common? Just that they like to make out in the bathroom of the library once a week. Jesse yearns to have a more open relationship with Emily, but Emily is very comfortable in the closet and in denial. When Jesse gets in trouble at school, she meets Esther, a girl who is also a weirdo and has a lot in common with Jesse. The two of them start working against a corporation trying to come into their community and school. Unfortunately, Emily is helping that corporation sponsor the school dance. Both girls have to decide what is most important to them: principles or love.
George has written a courageous book here. The characters are deeply felt, beautifully rendered and gorgeously human. Jesse is a strong lesbian character who also makes mistakes and is caught in a situation where she has to keep someone else’s secret. The tension that creates tests her relationship with her parents, her best friend, and herself. Emily is a study in contradictions that she speaks aloud, lives and breathes. She is a complicated character, awash in a mix of confidence in public and self-doubt in private. Esther is a surprising character, added after the reader thinks the book is going to focus on two girls only. She and Jesse have much in common, including mothers who had breast cancer. That piece of information notches neatly into the two girls’ characters, offering further depth.
Intriguingly, George has chosen to write Emily and Esther’s sections of the book in first person. Jesse is seen in third person, something that is distancing. I found the switch from one tense to another disconcerting at times, and wished that I could have known Jesse from inside as well as the other girls.
The world that George has created is populated with unique characters, adults and teens alike. It is a celebration of people who are different, living lives that are complicated, filled with emotion, and grounded in principles. I saw people I knew, people like myself, and people I wanted to meet and befriend.
Perhaps what I loved most about this book is its sensibilities. The characters are who they are, struggling with issues larger than themselves, but not deterred at all. It is a book that encourages teens to take action, change their communities, and speak up for what they believe in. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books.