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The Beautiful Between

Review

The Beautiful Between

Connelly Sternin does not feel she is living the life of a fairy tale princess. But when she is alone in her New York city apartment, studying for the SATs or doing her homework, waiting for her mother to come home, she thinks she knows how Rapunzel felt: isolated, lonely, and betrayed. So when the handsome and charming prince of the school, Jeremy Cole, starts paying attention to her, Connelly believes her life may be changing for the better. And it does, but not in the way she had always imagined it would.

Connelly and Jeremy are the young protagonists of Alyssa B. Sheinmel's first novel, THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN. Despite Connelly's initial attraction to Jeremy, this book is not a teen romance. Rather, it is a wise and open-hearted look at friendship.

When Jeremy comes and sits with Connelly one day at lunch, she doesn't know what to think. He suggests they can study together; he'll help her with physics if she works with him on SAT vocabulary. Soon, however, it becomes clear that schoolwork is not what Jeremy really has in mind. But his mind isn't on romance either. It seems as if the two are becoming fast friends, but when Jeremy's younger sister Kate stops attending school and Jeremy starts showing up at Connelly's late at night only to smoke a cigarette and head right home again, Connelly has to question what is really going on. Before she knows it, her friendship with Jeremy is forcing her to confront her father's death and the secrecy and shame her family has built like a wall around it. Connelly decides that while Jeremy may not be her prince in shining armor, he is just the person to break the spell and rescue her from the emotional tower she has been kept in for so long.

THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN is a lovely and poignant debut. Sheinmel's story is interesting and sometimes surprising, and she avoids distracting and annoying trendy vernacular. All her characters feel real and are generally likable, or at least understandable. The conflict here is mostly emotional or internal, though the illnesses and deaths that Connelly and Jeremy deal with are very real.

It is not that the subject matter here of friendship, family, and loss is so very original; it is Sheinmel's handling of it that makes the novel shine. From the platonic relationship between a teenage boy and girl to the contemporary re-working of the Rapunzel story to the honest examination of difficult topics such as cancer, suicide, shame, the desire to know brutal truths, and the way we sometimes come to believe our own lies, Sheinmel tells her tale with a compelling ease and believability.

While the Rapunzel analogy is never as fully developed as it could have been and the Sternin family's motivations for their years of silence about Connelly's father is never fully explored, THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN remains a recommendable story about the importance of truth and trust. And amidst the shelves lined with overwrought teen romance novels, it stands out as a lovely and memorable book anchored on more thoughtful themes.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 11, 2011

The Beautiful Between
by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

  • Publication Date: October 11, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ember
  • ISBN-10: 0375854738
  • ISBN-13: 9780375854736