The Beautiful Between
by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
pub: May 2010/Knopf Books for Young Readers
Teen Fiction/192 pages
If high school were a fairy-tale kingdom, Connelly Sternin would be Rapunzel, locked not in a tower by a wicked witch but in a high-rise apartment building by the SATs and college applications—and by the secrets she keeps. Connelly's few friends think that her parents are divorced—but they're not. Connelly's father died when she was two, and she doesn't know how.
If Connelly is the Rapunzel of her school, Jeremy Cole is the crown prince, son of a great and rich New York City family. So when he sits down next to her at lunch one day, Connelly couldn't be more surprised. But Jeremy has a tragic secret of his own, and Connelly is the only one he can turn to for help. Together they form a council of two, helping each other with their homework and sharing secrets. As the pair's friendship grows, Connelly learns that it's the truth, not the secrets, that one must guard and protect. And that between friends, the truth, however harsh, is also beautiful.
My ReviewThe Beautiful Between follows the relationship between bookworm, introvert high-school-nobody Connelly and the handsome, big man on campus Jeremy. One day he suggests they tutor each other since one’s academic weakness is the other’s strength. Connelly is ga-ga and they begin spending time together.
It's soon clear Jeremy has ulterior motives – nothing nefarious. He’s looking for help with a family crisis for which he believes Connelly has insight – how she coped with her father’s illness and death. Turns out she doesn’t have a clue since she was only two at the time and her mother has never been willing to talk about it. Connelly’s more emotionally lost than Jeremy but they continue to meet and their friendship grows. They share deep emotions, learn to trust each other, and discover healing and strength through mutual support. But while romance may be in their future, it doesn’t happen in this book.
Sheinmel’s lovely writing develops the characters well – slow yet powerful. They had their flaws but struggled to make it through with intelligence and dignity. I liked the contrast between Connelly’s family who doesn’t talk about anything, and Jeremy’s who talk about everything. I enjoyed watching Connelly grow over the course of the novel, and thought Jeremy was a great guy – sweet and sensitive but always masculine with a great sense of humor.
But be prepared, this isn’t an uplifting read - it explores illness, loss, death, dying and suicide. Frankly, it’s often sad and depressing but it’s handles the topic with truth and depth worthy of the difficult subject.
Bottom Line: The Beautiful Between is a quiet book - a moving story about family, friendship, love, loyalty and loss, coming of age, finding strength when you’re weak, hope in the midst of tragedy and ultimately facing and dealing with the truth of all life has to offer, good and bad. Well written, often sad but real and filled with sympathetic, genuine characters. Recommended for older teens because of some language, underage drinking and smoking, and mostly because the subject matter is depressing and intense.
The Cover: I like it – simple, haunting, beautiful.
First Lines: If you thought of high school as a kingdom – and I don’t mean the regular kind of kingdom we have today, like England or Norway, I mean those small ones in fairy tales that probably weren’t kingdoms at all so much as they were nobledoms where the nobles considered themselves kings and granted themselves the right of prima nochte, that kind of thing – if you thought of my high school like one of these, then Jeremy Cole would be the crown prince.
I like Connelly’s run-on thought process, I want to know more about Jeremy, and I need to look up what prima nochte means - an old law where a lord could take any new bride on her wedding night - might I just say, "Yuck."
About the Author:Alyssa B. Sheinmel was born in Stanford, California. She is a graduate of New York City's Spence School and Barnard College, lives in New York City and works in children's book publishing. THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN is her first novel. Her second book, THE LUCKY KIND, is due out in 2011.