March 2012

High school polar opposites attract

By Madeleine George
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When Jesse and Emily pass in the halls of their high school, they don’t make eye contact, and why would they? Emily is student body vice president, an intern at an important company with a loyal boyfriend and, it must be said, incredibly perfect hair. Jesse keeps her locks cut short with a pocketknife, favors outsize rubber boots over ballet flats and is the sole member of a radical flyer-posting political organization called NOLAW. The Difference Between You and Me would seem to be an understatement, yet every Tuesday afternoon finds these two together in the bathroom at the public library for what Emily calls their “special time,” where those barriers dissolve in the face of an amazing physical connection.

In this smart, funny novel, two girls who couldn't be more different share a physical connection they can't deny.

Jesse wants to go public with their relationship while Emily feels the need to compartmentalize it with her other extracurricular activities, and that works for a while. But when the school is divided by a big-box store’s plans to build in town, currying political favor by sponsoring school activities, a divide is created that forces the two to re-evaluate where they stand. Ideology competes with affection, and who wins is anything but clear.

Author Madeleine George (Looks) tells this story with humor and wisdom. Jesse is so embarrassed to tell her left-wing activist parents she’s involved with a “normal” girl that they suspect she’s on drugs; she denies it, then realizes the relationship is itself a form of addiction. Emily is genuine and earnest about school, her hometown and her boyfriend, but feels seen by Jesse on a deeper level, and that vulnerability is intoxicating. There’s also a clear and fair-minded look at the positive and negative impacts of urban sprawl on communities.

The Difference Between You and Me will prompt heated discussions, and maybe the next wave of photocopied manifestos that challenge the norm. Let’s hope.

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