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Jesse, an out and proud high school aged lesbian, makes use of every computer font available to design a manifesto she papers over the high school walls. The manifesto, that composes the book’s introduction, demands justice for “Weirdos, Freaks, Queer Kids, Revolutionaries, Nerds, Dweebs, Misfits . . . ” and other “labeled” individuals. The reader is drawn into the book, wondering which term(s) apply to Jesse herself.
Jesse has a great relationship with her “love children of the 60s” parents; she loves Wyatt, her gay homeschooled bff, who follows the stock market, shops in second-hand stores, and needs Jesse’s presence as a mediator during his monthly meetings with his estranged and hyper-religious father. But most of all, Jesse loves Emily.
Emily, who rejects the label of bisexual because she doesn’t believe in labels of any kind; who thinks “those kids are as welcome [in her school] as any normal kids”; and that her “public persona” is so powerful something would happen to the town if she broke up with her baseball playing boyfriend, Michael. Emily, who is vice-president of the student council, with her posse of pearl-neck laced, cashmere wearing girlfriends who enjoy making fun of Jesse in her ever-present rubber fisherman boots; believes that society rules. Emily, who works at the public library every Tuesday, has a ten minute break at 3:30 p.m., where she meets Jesse in the third floor handicapped bathroom; where they share their physical desires. During those precious few moments, neither girl worries about society, rubber boots, cashmere, friends or family; they just want, need, to be together.
Everything changes when Jesse meets Esther, a strange girl committed to righting political wrongs and admires Jesse’s moxie for publically posting her manifesto. Esther doesn’t even realize what’s happening when she challenges Jesse to back up her words; to recognize, acknowledge and eventually understand the differences between her public statements and her actions, and eventually between herself and Emily.
This young adult novel is designed to immediately grab readers’ interests. The novel is full with intriguing, distinctive, and fully-developed characters. Sexual identity/orientation, while not the center of George’s novel, is an integrally important facet of her characters’ personalities. Within Jesse’s world, her lesbianism is an accepted part of herself. To Emily this term has no relevance–it is only a socially prescript behaviour. Interestingly, the male figures inhabiting this novel not only complicate but also clarify issues of identity and personal relationships. The complexity of George’s novel emphasizes context, an important element of any novel: real world problems do not occur in a vacuum.
This novel is sure to be meaningful for young LGBTQ teens, their friends, enemies, families, teachers, counselors, mentors, and everyone else. The truthfulness related by and through the characters may be difficult for a young reader to realize and fully understand; however, there is little doubt something in this novel will ring a bell in their personal reality.
Looks, George’s first young adult novel, has a similar theme, where the primary characters are focused on physical differences (obesity and anorexia) and how they do not define the wholeness of a person. In Differences, George’s writing techniques enhance her approach to this similar theme. The primary characters’ perspectives are written in differing points of view. Jesse’s, written in third person, provides a broad view of those with whom she interacts and the setting. Emily’s voice, in first person, is a series of long, run-on sentences, indicative of her self-centeredness, how she values society’s standards, and intensifies the realization to readers of her developing awareness. These structural variations, paired with the use of age-appropriate language, metaphors and similes, give the novel depth.
The Difference Between You and Me is engaging, entertaining with a tasteful comedic element, and it handles serious personal, political, and relationship issues with a judicious hand. George’s novel is a refreshing and encouraging contribution to the LGBTQ Young Adult genre.
The Difference Between You and Me
By Madeleine George
Paperback ,9780670011285, 272pp.