Between You & Me by Marisa Calin ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: LGBT, unrequited love, screenplay format, theater, teacher/student relationships, friendship
Format read: ARC from ALA.
Summary: Told in the form of a screenplay, Phyre is a 16-year old girl who dreams of being an actress. When the beginning of the school year brings a new drama teacher into her life, she is positively smitten and wonders what to make of these new feelings for a female. Meanwhile, most of Phyre’s time is spent with her best friend — only referred to as ‘you’ throughout the novel — until her ‘obsession’ with Mia causes her to ignore You’s constant and adoring presence.
I love when authors take creative chances. When they do it right, the book morphs into more of an experience than just some paper bound together in your purse.
Between You & Me is just that. Written in screenplay style, author Marisa Calin introduces us to Phyre, a 16-year old girl, who loves theater and her best friend – a best friend that garners no name, simply known as ‘You’, with no description whatsoever, just movements and words and perhaps a clothing description every now and then.
It may be disconcerting to be kept in the dark about a character who is very much the heart of this novel, but we do get to see You in Phyre’s eyes and get equally frustrated when You’s actions constitute more than friendship and her friend is utterly blind to it.
So this is the thing. We have no idea if You is a girl or a guy. To be completely honest, during my first read through, I thought You was a girl. Once I (begrudgingly) finished the book, I read the Publishers Weekly review where it was mentioned that it was not divulged if You was a girl or a guy. Did I get amped up or what. It was almost midnight and I literally could not sleep because I found that hard to believe.
It’s funny the tricks your mind plays on you when you are reading. Somehow you are filling in the blanks with words that weren’t even on the page. I could swear I read that You was wearing a dress at one point and instead, You was all dressed up. So I went back, two days later, and reread the entire book again. This time, I pictured You as a boy.
And my conclusion? The book certainly works from both angles. But it made me hyper aware of these categories that I place people in. Yellow shirt, crossed ankles, light enough to lift into a treehouse – oh that must definitely mean You is a girl. But does it? Unconsciously we form all of these stereotypes in our head and cleverly and intricately Calin reminds us to forget them, check them at the door. That is not what matters here.
It is the love. It is the playful, intimate friendship between these two characters. It is how You will come over in the middle of the night to paint Phyre’s room because the color is bothering her. You (as in us) don’t meet people like that every day. And despite You’s silent and sweet attempts to show her these blossoming feelings, Phyre is totally crushing on her new theater teacher – the passionate, smart, cute, and encouraging Mia. The way Phyre bumbles around Mia and chastises herself for saying moronic things in front of her is so spot-on. Don’t misunderstand, Mia is clearly the teacher here; she never eggs Phyre on but still she is absolutely enchanting. Calin brings to the forefront various descriptions of light when it comes to Mia and it is breathtakingly clear why Mia is so worth living in this bubble of fantasy, even when it means Phyre taking You for granted.
The script style is, as it should be, very bare bones but Calin weaves in Phyre’s (uncensored) thoughts within the stage direction but manages to keep them simple, succinct and straightforward. The pacing is quick but the moments remain, bleeding into scene after scene. The format is a challenging experiment, but Calin’s writing is genuine and impactful nevertheless. I probably could have highlighted the entire book.
As a theater fan, I love how Calin incorporated parts of a school play that, in ways, paralleled the moments between Phyre and You. I admired Phyre’s passion and dedication to her craft, and so many of the creative elements incorporated into the production. It might be hard to believe that so much emotion could be alive and kicking in a book that isn’t overflowing with monologues or description but it is so there. So many times I had to close the book because the feelings were overwhelming and oh-so familiar.
Between You & Me has easily become one of my top reads of 2012, whether we are talking strictly about 2012 releases or of all the books I’ve read so far. It’s challenging, it’s thought provoking, and an innovative way of looking at relationships and preconceived notions of love and happiness. It just is.