Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George

In Madeleine George's The Difference Between You and Me, Jesse and Emily are both 15-year-old girls... and that's about where their similarities end. They have been meeting for super hot makeout sessions during stolen moments, but Jesse really hates keeping her feelings for Emily a secret. Since coming out a year earlier, Jesse no longer has friends at their school. She dresses oddly and cuts her own hair with a penknife. She posters her school with fierce manifestos "demanding JUSTICE NOW! for all weirdos, freaks, queer kids, revolutionaries, nerds, dweebs, misfits, loudmouths, rapunzels trapped in their towers, trolls trapped under their bridges, animals abused by their masters, detentionites, monsters and saints."

Emily is on the student council and she has had the same boyfriend for years. She does not make mistakes. She does not acknowledge Jesse in public.

"How can Jesse explain Emily to her mother? How can she describe Emily's fluid beauty, her long-legged walk, the way her jeans fit on her hips, her laugh -- recognizable to Jesse in any crowded hallway -- her hoodies, her V-necks, the taste of her skin, the smell of her hair, the way she looks like she was just born to move down a hallway in a group of girls whenever Jesse sees her from a distance in school? How can Jesse describe this regular girl who is somehow, in some way, haloed in magic, for no other reason than because she's Emily Miller?"

When a big box department store plans to build on the outskirts of their town, Jesse and Emily find themselves on opposite sides of the issue. By switching occasionally to Emily's point of view, George provides context and complexity in her realistic and emotionally moving story.

The Difference Between You and Me highlights the shining idealism and depth of passion that we feel as teens, before time and experience teach us to guard our hearts more closely. It is good to be reminded of this, and it's one of the reasons that adults like me enjoy reading YA novels.

Readalikes: Geography Club (Brent Hardinger); Sprout (Dale Peck); and The Vast Fields of Ordinary (Nick Burd) all feature teens in closeted same-sex relationships with one partner wanting to be out and the other not. Far from Xanadu (Julie Anne Peters) has a similar feel, although the relationship between the two girls is not mutual.

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