The Plot: Connelly Sternin, a junior, looks around her high school and sees it, her life, as a fairy tale. Connelly is Rapunzel, living in a Manhattan high rise, hiding behind studying and SAT Prep. She keeps herself isolated, not just because she is absorbed in studies, but also because she has created a barrier, a lie. The school thinks her parents are divorced and her absent father lives in Arizona. Instead, he is dead. Connelly was two at the time and doesn’t even know how he died.
Jeremy Cole is the crown prince, rich, athletic, popular. One day he sits at her lunch table, talks to her, asks to study with her. Why has the prince noticed a commoner? It turns out Connelly and Jeremy have something in common. Jeremy’s life isn’t so perfect.
Slowly, a friendship develops. But can Rapunzel leave the safety of her tower?
The Good: The Beautiful Between? Try The Beautifully Written Book I Am In Awe Of.
In the best possible way, The Beautiful Between is a quiet book. Connelly is friendly but without friends. Then Jeremy sits down. At her table.
It feels like the chatter in the cafeteria has gone quiet and everyone is listening to us. Which, by the way, isn’t entirely beyond reality, because people are always watching Jeremy Cole. . . . “Sternin, really.” And I melt because he’s calling me Sternin again. His hand on my arm doesn’t hurt his case either. I can actually feel the little hairs tingling.
Yes, she has a bit of a crush on Jeremy but who wouldn’t? He’s handsome, smart, funny, nice. He could have anything. Why is he approaching her? He says, “I’ll tutor you in physics, you help me with SAT vocabulary,” but c’mon! His family could afford an army of tutors. Since he could have any girl he wants, there is no reason for Jeremy to make up a reason to talk to a girl.
Turns out, there is a reason Jeremy is reaching out to Connelly. And it’s not help with his vocabulary. Instead, he thinks Connelly can help him with something. In reaching out to Connelly, he unintentionally rips a scab off a long ago wound.
I don’t want to go spoilery about why Jeremy reaches out to Connelly; in a way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Jeremy and Connelly develop a beautiful, real, true friendship. They become each other’s best friend; and it’s a friendship that develops not from a Grand Movie Experience, but from the small building blocks of friendship: talk, spending time together, being accepting, helping, knowing when to be quiet and when to speak up. And forgiving when a person doesn’t. In this way, it’s a quiet book. No vampires. No road trips. No ghosts.
This is Connelly’s story, and her layers and hurt she cannot name are poignantly drawn. Jeremy is shown through her eyes; he is and remains a crown prince. So softly that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint, their relationship shifts from acquaintances to friends.
Part of what I loved about Sheinmel’s writing – other than the writing and the characters – is she doesn’t tell everything. Some things remain unknown. It’s real, yet also risky, because some readers demand full answers.
What else? I love that Jeremy and Connelly bond over smoking! Talk about the last taboo in young adult literature! Such a wonderful detail –and so revealing of Jeremy’s personality, and Connelly’s character, and really nothing else could substitute for it. Another thing. Confession: I can get really annoyed at rich kids in books. No, really! I sometimes think “oh, get a real problem, Ritchie Rich!” Not once did I think that, ever, even as Connelly’s mother lived comfortably without ever working, or Jeremy’s family out-trumped the Trumps.
Another thing! Jeremy and Connelly are Jewish. The book isn’t about being Jewish; it’s not something that would catch the eye of any cataloguer. It’s for those readers who are looking for books where the teens just happen to be Jewish, in the same casual, comfortable way that so many books have people who just happen to be Christian.
Because weeks after I read it, I was still haunted by Connelly, Jeremy, and Sheinmel’s writing, this becomes a Favorite Book Read in 2010.