Rating: 4/5 *****
What if I told you that with just 10 short stories, an author managed to capture a connection shared, deep down, between all humans? Jo Knowles achieves this remarkable feat through her original, imagery-filled witty yet deep novel “Read Between the Lines”.
Tweens and teens will easily relate to this high-school set book as it pursues the lives and struggles of nine students and one teacher. The reader is exposed to the personal battles against weight, sexuality, loneliness or grief etc. that plague each teen underneath the false roles that society has forced them into. The undeniable connections between the struggles of the teens causes the reader to realize that each teen is ultimately the same, regardless of the “tough guy” or “popular” persona that they portray. I found this connection to be exemplified by the character Dylan and his neighbor, Dewey. Dylan has an extraordinarily messy house because his mother is an obsessive hoarder; presumably because she wants to keep anything that she can ever since she lost her husband years ago. Dylan wonders why Dewey constantly insults his “trashy” house and maintains an unnaturally pristine property himself. We learn that Dewey’s extreme cleanliness is a coping mechanism for the pain of his clean-freak mother abandoning him. Dylan realizes that Dewey’s family couldn’t control his mother, so by obsessively cleaning their house, “they are just clinging to the one thing they can control…the only thing…they have.” Dylan finally understands that Dewey’s insults are just a tough projection used to conceal the grief of losing his mother. In these respects, Dewey and Dylan, despite clashing cleaning habits, are ultimately the same.
Knowles also examines how people’s internal struggles cause them to give others the middle finger. I found it hilariously witty when Knowles’ author’s note explained that this middle finger motif was meant as payback to a mad driver who flipped her off. What better comeback than to turn a hostile offense into inspiration for an original work of art? She proves that whether the emotion be road rage, hatred, sarcasm or even romantic, the middle finger can express multiple feelings. More importantly, Knowles turns even something as derogatory as the middle finger into a deep message on fair judgment. In the novel ending, when the character Mrs. Lindsay explains the significance of the three finger gesture, we realize that the book’s front cover has been flipping us off this entire time. This re-enforces the theme of not judging people by their apparent persona because like the front page, we realize that we must read between the lines to truly understand someone. Just like how the reader must read the entire novel before seeing the subtle middle finger message, we must uncover someone’s entire story before we can judge who they truly are.
Even with such a well-written work, I only give the novel 4/5 because some of its language and topics were a bit too foul for my liking. Approach this book cautiously if you are not one for swearing, drug talk or some slightly over-sexualized characters. However, granted that this book is set in high school, I suppose some of the crudeness is technically normal…so I let most of it slide. Other than those obscenities, I honestly wish to see it introduced into high-school curricula. It takes place in a modern, relevant time and its messages on fair judgement, along with several other common teenager issues, are essential for students to hear. Kudos to Knowles on a novel well done.
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Thank you to: irish684.com and quotemaster.org for their photos.