I liked thinking that whatever Delilah and I had between us was so strong that there was no boundary between the true and the imagined, the book and the Reader. I liked the idea that although I started my life as a figment of someone’s imagination, that didn’t make me any less real. (Prince Oliver, p. 165)
Delilah is a bit of a loner. She spends more time reading a children’s fairy tale book than she does interacting with other teenagers. Prince Oliver is a character stuck in a book – the very same fairy tale book that Delilah is enamored with. He’s tired of running through the same scenes over and over again, not being able to make his own choices and being confined to the world created by the author. When Oliver manages to make contact with Delilah, the two of them become determined to find a way to free him from the pages.
Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha van Leer wrote Between the Lines together side-by-side. While Picoult is likely the big draw here for most readers (there is a reason her name is in the largest font on the book spine and cover), the main draw for me was the involvement of her teenaged co-author and the fun story concept. Of course, for a debut teen author I’m sure it doesn’t hurt having a seasoned and well-respected author as your co-writer!
The story is told through alternating chapters from the perspectives of Delilah and Oliver, and scenes from the fairy tale story, also called Between the Lines. I love the concept of a special book whose characters are simply acting out the scenes written for them and who do their own thing when the book is closed. I love the idea that one of these characters might want to leave that world for another and that an invested reader might be a potential ally and love interest. Our main characters, Oliver and Delilah, are pretty immediately likable which makes joining them on their journey a breeze. And the world of the fairy tale book (the one that exists when the book is closed) is a curious place that was fun to dive into.
While I became invested in Oliver and Delilah and the challenge at hand quite easily, it took me a while to get a handle on the story’s tone and some of the characterizations. There is a goofiness at times in the storytelling that surprised me in ways that made it difficult for me to settle in. For example, modern day elements show up in the fairy tale story (fire extinguisher, megaphone, braces, etc) and there are unusual mini-conflicts that arise such as a horse who won’t leave his stable because he has a zit (although we all know that to the horse with the zit, this conflict doesn’t feel so small). The story has a playfulness reminiscent of The Princess Bride or Pixar movies and recognizing this helped me join the fun and stop worrying if the unusual fairy tale world made sense.
One thing that stands out about this book is the design. There are full page color illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert that appear every few chapters which are presumably illustrations from the fairy tale book that Delilah is so fond of. These illustrations are lovely and introduce us to the world of the fairy tale and to our handsome prince. Picoult has described Gilbert’s work in Between the Lines as reminiscent of the work of Arthur Rackham, which is an immense compliment and I must say well-deserved. The book also incorporates black-and-white silhouettes throughout the text created by Scott M. Fischer. While eye-catching and frequently charming, the silhouettes didn’t add to the story for me (with some notable exceptions). Unfortunately, the images were incorporated into the page design in ways that often made them feel like “clutter” (as far as clutter goes this was of the more welcome variety). This element of the book design may be more of a draw for younger readers, but for me it felt a bit much at times. Similarly, I did not need the change in font and font color that accompanied the changes in perspective. I appreciate that the book designers were trying to make something special here – a treasure of a book – but I wish they had taken a more subtle approach.
Picoult is a popular adult author and it is likely because of this that I’ve come across suggestions for librarians and booksellers to shelve this title in both adult and YA sections. I’m not sure that I’m convinced though. While I think some adult readers, like myself, will enjoy this cute story, it definitely reads more in the middle grade to YA spectrum. I would suggest this book without reservation to tween readers who are beginning to explore the YA section and to teen readers (and select adults) who are looking for a fun, sweet, and playful fantasy novel.
Side note: Prince Oliver was named after one of their family pets. Seriously, how cute is that?!