What would it be like if your favorite character from a book came to life and left his fictional world behind to join you in reality? Jodi Picoult teams up with her 16-year-old daughter Samantha van Leer to answer that question in a clever and charming new novel for teens.
Between the Lines features high school outcast Delilah McPhee, who falls for the hero of a strange children’s book. This fairy tale prince is not only “cuter than any guy” in Delilah’s school, he’s also smart, sensitive and courageous. Can she find a way to get Oliver off the page and into the real world where they’ll live happily ever after?
We asked the mother-daughter writing pair to tell us more about how they created this delightful fractured fairy tale.
Sammy, this is your first book, and Jodi, this is your first teen book. What was it like venturing into uncharted territory?
Jodi: I’ve been asked to write versions of my books for younger readers who might not be emotionally ready for some of the content of my grownup novels, and I’ve always said no—I’d rather tell the story the way I need to tell it, and have the kid wait till he/she is ready to read it in that form, instead of a watered-down version. But this story, which was 100 percent Sammy’s idea, was so different, and so cool—who hasn’t had a wicked crush on a character in a book at some point in her life? It felt rich enough to be a chapter book, and was a concept I thought both adults and teens could relate to.
Sammy: It was a lot of hard work, but in the end I was able to create something I could be extremely proud of. I’ve written in the past but I’ve never actually completed anything quite like this in terms of size and scope. I had lots of fun imagining an entire other world where I got to essentially decide the fate of everyone living inside. It was a power I’ve never had before!
"Delilah does something many of us think about: She literally gets inside the world of a book."
Was it always a dream for the two of you to collaborate?
Jodi: Sammy has always been incredibly creative, and a great writer. There have been story ideas she’s had that are so wildly original I’d find myself thinking, “I wish I’d been the one to come up with that.” I wasn’t sure if she’d have the desire or the fortitude, however, to take on a long-term collaborative project. Although it was her idea, I knew that having my experience crafting something of this magnitude would help—and that I’d be the one reining her in on sunny days when it would have been far more fun to sit outside than to be at a computer writing. I can’t say whether it was a dream for Sammy . . . but it was an unforgettable and wonderful experience for me to have with my own daughter.
How was the creation and writing of the story divided between you?
Sammy: We sat down together during the summer of my freshman year and every day we’d write for about four hours. Sophomore summer we spent the same amount of time each day editing. This summer—after my junior year—I’ll spend on tour. As for the actual division of labor, we sat side by side and wrote together, having a conversation or role-playing and writing it down.
What’s the best and worst thing about writing with family?
Jodi: The worst thing, of course, is that even when we’re writing, I’m still the mom. That means I am not only the one saying, “We have to finish 20 pages today,” I’m also saying, “Clean your room.” But the best thing is that I found our minds worked similarly in remarkable ways. We would literally write every sentence together, taking turns typing. I’d start to speak a sentence and Sammy would finish, or vice-versa. It was as if we were dreaming the same dream, and falling all over each other to describe what we were seeing, only to realize the vision in each of our minds was identical.
What sparks the attraction between Delilah and Oliver? Why do you think she connects so strongly with him when she’s a loner around real people?
Sammy: I feel like Delilah is more comfortable in the world of books than she is in the real world. When she uses the fairy tale as an escape from her world, she is able to associate with the characters inside better than she would with ordinary teenagers. The reason Oliver is so compelling for her is because he’s nothing like other modern-day teenage boys. He has chivalry, manners, and he also knows what it’s like to feel like he doesn’t belong in the world he inhabits.
What is it about Delilah’s character that teens will most identify with or admire?
Sammy: Everyone’s felt left out sometime—whether it was in high school or even in preschool on the playground. Anyone can identify with feeling lonely. Also, Delilah does something many of us think about: She literally gets inside the world of a book.
What makes your novel a modern story—even though it’s based on a fairy tale?
Jodi: The voice of Delilah—which is very poignant and true, and taps into that teen angst of how to find one’s place in a world that doesn’t seem to fit. Which, very intentionally, is also the driving force behind Oliver’s desire to escape his literary existence. There are bits of Delilah’s life that are so real a teen can’t help but identify—Sammy came up with one phrase I loved, in fact, where she described popular girls “clustered together like grapes, because really, do you ever see just one?” Who hasn’t witnessed that in the halls of a modern high school?
What’s one book you’d love to be a character in?
Sammy: A Dr. Seuss book. It seems like a really happy place to be, full of nonsense and imagination . . . which is a place I’d fit right into.
What has the process of working together taught you?
Jodi: I’ve always been proud of Sammy’s writing ability, but I was so impressed by her tenacity and her ability to really put in the time and energy required not just to craft a book, but to edit it multiple times, and then tour for eight weeks to promote it across three continents. I learned that I’m not the only storyteller in the family. And I learned that when my daughter wants to put her mind to a task, she can be incredibly successful.