The Difference Between You and Me

Back in December 2010, I attended the YALSA Literature Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At one of the panel presentations, I had the pleasure of hearing author and playwright Madeleine George read a scene from her work in progress. It was one of the funniest, sharpest readings I'd heard in a long, long time. I remember everyone in the audience—everyone—demanding to know when that scene was going to appear in a book. She told us, apologetically, that it wasn't likely for some time, probably not until 2012. Well, 2012 has arrived, and the book that scene is in came out last week. It's called The Difference Between You and Me.

This is a book about three very different girls: Jesse, Emily, and Esther. Jesse cuts her hair with a Swiss Army knife and wears green fisherman's boots to school every day. Emily is the vice president of student council and should be a card-carrying member of the Young Republicans. Jesse and Emily have absolutely nothing in common—except Tuesday afternoons in the handicapped bathroom of their local library, where they make out.

The scene that Madeleine read at YALSA? It was only one of the best kissing scenes I have ever read in a YA novel, and I do not say that lightly. This scene is hilarious and touching and sexy, and it illuminates who Jesse and Emily are as individuals, and as a couple. It is awesome. (Hmm, this is making me think about what goes into a great kissing scene.) It also occurs very early on in the book, so I'm totally not spoiling you.

Esther is a somewhat rumpled but enthusiastic peace activist who also goes to school with Jesse and Emily. Though Esther is aware of Jesse and Emily, she's friends with neither until she and Jesse have detention together one weekend. Jesse, you see, is something of an activist herself. She posts manifestos all over the school for her organization NOLAW (National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos, with membership consisting of one so far), and it was her postering the girls' bathroom that landed her in detention.

Jesse and Esther bring their very different activist styles together to protest a big box store that wants to sponsor their high school's formal dance. Who convinced the big box store to sponsor it? Emily, of course.

Did I mention that Emily has a boyfriend who doesn't know that she's making out with Jesse? And that Emily's totally okay with the making out as long as it stays secret? Jesse, on the other hand, is completely out as a lesbian and has lefty liberal parents who would be appalled not that she's dating a girl, but that the girl is a conservative.

I loved a lot of things about this book: its sense of humor, the witty dialogue, Emily's snobbish yet crazily innocent voice. But what I loved most was Jesse, because she's a butch girl who doesn't apologize for it. She is who she is, and it's eccentric (fisherman's boots!) and idealistic and sexy all at once.

The one drawback of the book, to me, was the fact that while Emily's and Esther's chapters were written in the first person, Jesse's chapters were in third person. I wanted to be more in Jesse's head because I found her so interesting and warm and likable. But I can understand, from a writer's perspective, why Madeleine George might have wanted to keep Jesse in the third person. I just wanted more of Jesse! There just aren't nearly enough gender-bending girls in YA these days. (Or ever, frankly.)

The Difference Between You and Me is such a smart, engaging, funny book. And Jesse is totally a keeper! I highly recommend it.