The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Release Date: March 15, 2012
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Target: Young adult
Format read: A paperback received at ALA. (Thank you!)
Why I was interested: Intrigued by this love story.
Summary: Jesse and Emily couldn’t be more different. Jesse is the organizer of a group with a mission to “liberate the weirdos” while Emily is very active as the vice president of the student council. Jesse thinks her combat boots complete every outfit, while Emily wears her share of J.Crew sweaters. Jesse is in love with Emily, and Emily is… well… may be in love with Jesse, shares many intense Tuesday afternoons with her, but has a boyfriend. When a school issue causes the two to be on separate sides of the argument, both are forced to reevaluate their “relationship” and the value (and cost) of being themselves.
For reasons I can’t completely grasp (even after I finished it a week ago), I felt strongly connected to Jesse and Emily’s relationship. At times, I wanted to just throw the book across the room because the dread, the ache, the excitement between the two was so real to me. It felt like I was experiencing it myself. That would be thanks to author Madeleine George, who I was delighted to find out is a playwright living right in my backyard (NYC). It’s really no surprise. She writes with a stark simplicity that I quite liked and her character development was very strong. The plot moved at a reasonable pace, and every word seemed very deliberate. I’m not normally a fan of books that don’t offer a ton of dialogue but I found myself very intrigued with the inner thoughts of these characters. If I walked into any crowded room, I felt I could easily uncover Jesse and Emily, even if I hardly “heard” them speak.
Jesse is the kind of character I love. She is brave. And while she has a strong sense of who she is, she is also incredibly flawed. This is important to me as a reader and a human being. Her secret hook-ups with Emily definitely start to take a toll. She worries about what this means about the kind of person she is. She’s falling for a person that her family may not approve of, someone who may not ever want to hold her hand in public. But she allows herself to dream that impossible dream, as so many of us do. No matter how painful the truth is, and how much deep down, we know what we might be doing is wrong. All of these emotions surrounding their relationship were so incredibly vivid, especially when we learn what Emily is feeling… or not.
Emily is so proper, and so much about appearances and doing the right thing, I almost felt like she was campaigning to be the next President of the United States. She was not a person who let her guard down. She worried about moving forward and getting ahead, and taking charge and keeping things in order. So she must have felt really messed up that she was feeling such affection for Jesse and enjoyed making out with her. At times she even allowed herself to dream about making this relationship something more. I enjoyed those times because, otherwise, Emily came off as a cold person. And I could relate to Jesse feeling so crazed about the whole thing because the two didn’t communicate about their feelings, their fears, or what everything meant. (That would have made me crazy. I like to talk everything out and know what every move means.)
So here we have these two characters narrating alternate chapters, and then Esther turns up. She and Jesse end up becoming friends, bonding over their mothers and accepting their differences and their interests in meaningful work. I liked her character, but I’m not sure of the conscious decision to give her 2 chapters out of the entire book. I felt we could have easily found out these tidbits about her from Jesse’s point of view for sure. Structurally, it didn’t work for me, and emotionally, I was more invested in Jesse and Emily especially once the Starmart conflict comes into play. Similarly to TESSA MASTERSON WILL GO TO PROM, we have another situation where a big business is attempting to take over local businesses. The catch? This is the same business Emily recruited to sponsor their latest school dance. Much comes into question for Emily and Jesse when this situation blows up at school. So much so that this conflict becomes the driving force behind the movement of the plot, and not so much their relationship – which I liked a lot.
In the end though, and quite surprising to me, only one of these characters comes full circle in their journey. One character changes. I don’t necessarily agree with that decision. The ending certainly snuck up on me; I could have used more resolution in several aspects of The Difference Between You and Me. All in all, I love how this book was written, and I was more than happy to read an LGBT that chronicles the lives of 3 such different people. It teaches us that you can’t always choose who you love, and perhaps, it teaches us even more about acceptance.