Review: The Beautiful Between

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. –From Amazon

I admit that the two main reasons I bought The Beautiful Between were 1) I had heard that it was really good, and 2) The cover is gorgeous. I honestly didn’t have much clue what it was about, which goes against my typical book buying practices. However, even if I had read the description, I’m not sure that it would have captured the book’s painfully honest portrayal of two teens dealing with the illness and death of their relatives. I had heard some negative reviews before reading this book, but I think that many were simply the result of the novel being not quite what the readers expected.

If you read this book, here are some things you can expect:

  • A friendship that is deep, but platonic. There aren’t any steamy romance scenes, but there’s something almost more engaging about a male-female relationship that is loving in a quiet and non-romantic way.
  • A depiction of high school students who actually study and struggle with schoolwork, which is refreshing.
  • A look at how the bonds between friends and family members can both strengthen and break as a result of illness.
  • A cast of characters who are quirky and insecure, no matter their social status.

I loved the writing, and I was intrigued by the extended metaphor comparing high school social strata to fairy tale nobility. I occasionally wondered if the book would have been just as strong without the fairy tale references, but I think Connelly’s active imagination added to her charm, and to the reader’s understanding of how she has dealt with living without a father or knowledge of how her father died.

I enjoyed Alyssa Sheinmel’s debut novel, and was able to read this compact novel in a single, short sitting. I’m fairly sure she and her sister, Courtney Sheinmel, are competing to see who can make readers cry more. As far as I’m concerned, they are pretty even. For now, we’ll call it a tie, but I’ll look forward to more novels from both to see who tips the scales next time.

Quotable Quotes from The Beautiful Between

“I prop myself up on my willows, twist my neck so I can see out the window. We’re twelve floors up, and my bedroom looks out onto Madison Avenue. Sometimes, from this window, I can see my mother coming home from one of her lunches, a walk, the supermarket. Sometimes we go to the market together, but whenever I’m not with her, she still picks up exactly the foods I want; I never have to tell her. She knew when I switched from regular Coke to Diet Coke, and started buying it for me. She notices when we’re running low on cereal, even though she doesn’t eat it, and always makes sure there’s a fresh box and non-expired milk. Maybe the witch thought she was protecting Rapunzel, not punishing her. Maybe she thought that if Rapunzel was locked away, no one could ever hurt her. Maybe the witch kept Rapunzel because she loved here, because she was scared that if other people could get to Rapunzel, they would hurt her. And maybe Rapunzel didn’t understand the witch; maybe she was angry at her—but maybe she loved her too.”

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