"From the author of Virtuosity, a novel about two sisters and the secrets they tell, the secrets they keep—and the secret that could tear them apart.Amelia is used to being upstaged by her charismatic younger sister, Charly. She doesn’t mind, mostly, that it always falls to her to cover for Charly’s crazy, impulsive antics. But one night, Charly’s thoughtlessness goes way too far, and she lands both sisters in serious trouble.The Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez
Amelia’s not sure she can forgive Charly this time, and not sure she wants to . . . but forgiveness is beside the point. Because Charly is also hiding a terrible secret, and the truth just might tear them apart forever." (from Goodreads)
*Note: I've whited out the most major spoilery bits, but there are some general mild spoilers in this review.
Amelia: I had trouble liking Amelia at some points because of her dismissive, condescending attitude towards Charly. While she does change her attitude partway through — and I have to respect her for trying to be more positive and treat her sister better — I feel like it shouldn't have taken knowledge of a certain fact to get Amelia to realize she'd been treating Charly badly (spoiler, highlight to read: the fact that Charly was date-raped changes Amelia's perspective, but I feel like she shouldn't have had the attitude she did towards Charly even if it had all played out the way Amelia had initially thought, without any instance of date rape). Amelia's behaviour towards Charly wasn't helping anything — not Charly, and not Amelia's mental/emotional health either. All it was doing was creating a negative environment and relationship between the two girls.
However, Amelia actually acknowledges that she'd gotten into the pattern of nasty behaviour towards Charly and that it was difficult to get out of the habit of making fun of her. I thought this was quite realistic — perhaps not something a lot of people would recognize or admit, but something that's very true of human behaviour (old habits die hard and all that). Also, I enjoyed Amelia's sarcastic attitude in some ways. Yes, she's pretty bitter about everything at the beginning, and she slowly mellows out (Ezra helps with that), but it was fun to hear her take on things. I kind of had to admire her for being so self-contained and self-reliant; she wasn't afraid to tell people what she thought, and she ate lunch by herself in the library and didn't care.
Charly: Even though Amelia was far from perfect, I preferred her to Charly. Charly just didn't seem like the kind of person I'd like very much — she's pretty self-centered (although really, Amelia is too) and shallow. We don't get to know her that well, though, and our perspective is admittedly biased since Amelia is the narrator, and so we see Charly through a negative lens through most of the book. I wish we'd been shown more of their relationship both before the book starts (i.e. through flashbacks) as well as once it gets patched up (spoiler: there's one scene where they basically make amends, and then we really don't see much more of them together. It just seemed like a "quick fix" sort of resolution.) The full explanation for Charly's situation makes it easier for us to feel sorry for her, yes, but I never felt that bad for her because she seemed rather annoying through most of the book.
Ezra: he was pretty awesome. He's got a good sense of humor and he's funny — he gets a lot of great lines — but he cares about Amelia too, and the way he tries to win her over is sweet. He presents an interesting mix of geekiness and self-confidence (two attributes you don't see being paired together that often!) Ezra is not without his own issues and flaws, though; he's somewhat guarded, and doesn't like to share information about himself, which really irritates Amelia. It seemed like his family had a lot of issues, but that these issues were being used as more of a plot device, or perhaps a device to explain his character, rather than existing in and of themselves. I feel like we should have seen more of his mother or brother, instead of hearing about them offhand as part of an explanation for Ezra's behaviour.
The romance reminded me of Anna and the French Kiss in style — enjoyable banter between the characters, a sweet progression of the relationship, and a few dollops of drama.
The Space Between Us takes a cliched and generic premise (pastor's daughter gets pregnant) and then makes it significantly better with one simple change — the fact that Amelia and Charly go to Canada. All right, I'm Canadian, so I'm a little biased, but let's face it: Canada gets short shrift in the YA department. We're just north of the U.S. but for some reason it's oh so much more glamorous to set a novel in New York or California than Toronto or B.C.
But lo and behold, Amelia and Charly pack their bags and head for...Banff, of all places! I say "of all places" because it's not the first location in Canada I would have imagined choosing to stay for an indeterminate period of time. Banff is a tourist hot spot for the skiing, but not much else. And as the sisters soon find out, it's cold there. (Um, it's Alberta. In the mountains. Of course it's cold.)
So basically, the funny comments and jokes alluding to all things Canadiana (food, customs, weather, etc.) were fantastic. Seeing it from an American perspective was quite amusing at times (Amelia hates some aspects of Canada!) And happily, it was clear that the author understands the cross-border dialogue that occurs. Jessica Martinez has lived in both Canada and the U.S. and obviously gets both sides of the coin.
Moreover, I'm very happy to see Canada getting featured in a book published in the mainstream North American market. Usually we're lucky to even get one or two mentions in a story — generally something along the lines of, "He's escaping to Canada" or "that frozen wasteland to the north" — so it was really cool that almost all of The Space Between Us was set in Canada. I would love to see this more often in YA, where I get a lot of the references and it feels like it means something more to me because it's set in my country.
The teen pregnancy plotline didn't do much for me, and doesn't stand out amongst all the similar stories out there. Spoilers: the storyline involving the date rape wasn't explored enough in my opinion. However, Martinez does touch on the important point of women who are date-raped thinking they are at fault, and feeling buried with guilt and shame even though logically they know that's not the case. I wish we'd seen more of Charly herself, coming into her own. But Amelia's romance with Ezra is cute — I adored the scene where Amelia gets mild hypothermia and heads into the library where, of course, Ezra is working — and I liked how the book ended for the two of them. We're given a glimpse into the near future for Amelia and Ezra and it looks promising.
There's also a small subplot involving a guy back home (Will) that never really gets resolved; the whole thing seemed complicated and unnecessary. Amelia could have had enough sister envy issues on her plate without dragging Will into it. Either that or something more should have happened back in Florida to bring in the characters (like Savannah and Will) that we saw at the beginning, rather than having them just stay on the sidelines.
The writing style is a little bland, but quite relatable and realistic. Martinez has a good ear for dialogue between teens; her characters can have emotional conversations with each other and still remain authentic.
Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. While the central premise is hardly fresh, Jessica Martinez skilfully capitalizes on her knowledge of Canada-U.S. differences to provide a good dose of humor, and also demonstrates some astute perceptiveness of human emotions and reactions through Amelia's and Charly's characters and situations.
Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC for review from the author.
This book counts towards my goals for the Just Contemporary reading challenge and the Sophomore reading challenge.