Review: The Difference Between You and Me
There are numerous good YA novels out there, but sometimes one stumbles upon something less than desirable. The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George is one such case.
The novel features a high school relationship jeopardized by radically different values. The protagonist is Jesse, a teen girl who wants to promote equality in her community. The object of her affections is Emily, the student council head who wants to improve her school by working with the system. When a massive corporation tries to settle in the town, Jesse starts a campaign to drive it out while Emily hires the company to sponsor school events. The two girls must choose between their beliefs and their relationship.
The Difference Between You and Me fell short of its premise. The lesson the teens learn at the end of the novel is predictable: don't sacrifice your values for a relationship. Obviously, not every book needs an earth-shattering lesson to work well, but if a book has a trite lesson to teach it must make the journey to that ending original. Unfortunately, this novel's two-dimensional characters and run-of-the-mill scenes are neither original nor unique, imparting the feeling that these characters are trains on a rollercoaster taking the reader through the same recycled plot without adding something new.
The characters are forgettable since none of them grow beyond their stereotypes. Jesse is willfully anti-establishment; Emily is the queen bee who works with the system; Jesse's friend is a loopy, dreamy activist; Jesse's parents are super-liberal former hippies. It would be fine to have characters based in stock roles as long as they develop beyond them, but in this book the characters' failure to grow is not only uninteresting but also dooms the scenes they feature in. For example, Jesse is dragged by her friend to a peace vigil. There, she eventually feels aligned with her values and thus at peace, finally knowing where she belongs. The scene is certainly contrived, but multidimensional characters could have rescued it: perhaps Jesse could have overcome an inner struggle about her values, or the surrounding characters were actually not as unquestionably committed to pacifism as they appeared. But the simple characters fail to rescue the scene.
The Difference Between You and Me explores themes that have lots of potential: the struggle between the system and the individual, adherence to personal values, the perpetual identity crises of teenagers. Emily's constant rationalization of her clearly hypocritical actions is a sympathetic struggle, while Jesse's self-actualization journey is touching. Unfortunately, the book's lack of originality fails to flesh out these themes and turn them into something memorable, and thus the entire book is an exercise in frustrated opportunity.