Between by Jessica Warman

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Between by Jessica Warman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Eden Endfield
Reviewed by Eden Endfield
Summary: This paranormal teenage novel is a well-plotted murder mystery, with lashings of red herrings. However, because the main character is a ghost who can only witness events and not influence them, I found her emotional journey and moral awakening not altogether satisfying.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Egmont Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781405260480

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Elisabeth Valcher, a spoilt, vain but popular girl, wakes up after a party to celebrate her 18th birthday on her father's yacht to discover herself dead, lying face down in the water. Luckily for Liz, who has trouble remembering exactly who she is and what happened in the run up to her death, she is soon joined by another ghost, Alex, one of the unpopular boys from her high school, who was killed a year earlier in a hit and run accident.

I was reminded of Dickens' ghost story, A Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge witnesses his life and is shown the error of his ways. Through a series of 'scenes', Liz pieces together her past life and sees the present reaction to her death by her friends, boyfriend, half sister, father and stepmother. It is not a pretty sight. Seeing herself objectively for the first time, Liz is shocked to find that she is not a very pleasant person, and that her friends and family are morally tainted. And, it seems, they are all possible suspects in her murder. Liz tries to figure out who the murderer is, as does the detective Joe, who makes sporadic appearances.

Teen novels often to ask the question, who am I? and this book is no exception. The only problem is, do we care? Too often, the 'scenes' we are witnessing along with Liz felt like watching a movie about someone watching a movie about them selves. She is truly a ghost, not fleshed out. This has a distancing effect. Flashbacks to her early childhood, showing 'reasons why' Liz turned out the way she did, are meant to provoke sympathy in the reader. But to me they felt a tad self-pitying.

It takes almost half a book, labouring the point that Liz, her friends and family are all selfish, before we actually start to move forward with the story. I kept wondering when the other ghost, Alex, was going to have a true role to play, other than being a sort of irritating, ghostly tour guide. It is only when Liz and Alex waft into Alex's home and Liz starts to empathise with him, that we feel there may be some point to this character and to their relationship. But when Alex drops a heavy hint that their fates may be connected in some way, Liz doesn't seem to get it, coming across as a bit thick.

Similarly, when her friends are stealing from her, she seems unable to come up with any normal reaction. She does get angry when she starts to suspect her step-sister Josie of stealing her boyfriend, as any teenager might. Richie is possibly the best drawn character, complex, brooding, enigmatic. And, you feel, a good guy underneath it all, in spite of his drug dealing. He is clearly devoted to Liz, in spite of his relationship with Josie. His love for Liz propels him to take actions which ultimately lead to him reform. But at the crucial moment, when Liz exposes herself to danger by going to collect her damaged car from the seedy car mechanic Vince Aiello, her adoring, renegade boyfriend tells her to take a bus. He's too busy with his homework to go with her. I wasn't totally convinced.

Liz has her eyes opened and becomes less naive, but the message is a negative one. No change is possible, people continue to be who they are, albeit chastised by their experience. Towards the end Liz says that her family is like something out of a Greek tragedy. Her half sister, Josie, says to Richie, don't you understand? Life follows a pattern. Liz was like her mother. I'm like my mother. You're like my father. Don't you see? We should be together.

I felt that the book was too long winded and quite repetitive, and, at times, confusingly, sounded like it was intended for younger teens with references to push up bras, matching outfits and best friend hearts.

Perhaps the story needed a bit of the redemptive spirit of A Christmas Carol.

If this book appeals then you might enjoy The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

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