Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
We begin the day in Physical Education with Nate, where his lack of athletic ability lands him with a broken finger. As the day goes on, each chapter explores part of a different characters day. For the most part they attend the same high school, although one is a graduate. The characters are interconnected with many people appearing in multiple chapters and some stories left unresolved until we are able to see them from a different perspective later.
At times it is compelling reading, you not only want to look more deeply into the thoughts of the character you are with, but you are anticipating learning the inner workings of the others you may see later. Knowles does an excellent job bringing you in so that you are learning the private wishes, hopes and desires of each character and so that you also can see these in stark contrast to how they act and what they share with their friends. Although one character is hiding his sexual preferences from most of the school, he is hardly the only one with a secret.
The are but a few jarring notes in the book: the graduate (a supposed meathead who has slightly more depth than you’d expect, although not much) and the teacher. I understand why the teacher was included; it allowed Knowles to wrap up many of the stories in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The teacher has the access to hear what has happened to multiple students. But it just didn’t quite gel for me and I ended up feeling let down that I ended the book on that note. My only other issue is a very real concern for the number of times in this book that a male character believes a female character must “want it”. Just as an FYI, there is no choice of clothing, no way of walking or smiling, no shade of lipstick that is a clear beacon that signals I would like to do sexual things with you.
Age Recommendation: 14 and up. Set in high school, the stories will resonate the most with people of the same age. Because of the drinking, drug use, engaging in shakedown scams and the use of the f-word, many will find this to best suit a high school audience.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen wishes a hot nurse takes him into a hospital supply closet and that he loses his virginity. This is a fantasy not pegged to a particular person, just the idea of a hot nurse. There’s a reference to part of the male anatomy swelling. A teen has her period. She is called attractive. A teacher is supposedly hot. There’s talk about how all the male students lust for her and how she could possibly stop it by not wearing so much lipstick or by dressing differently. A male teen is possibly seen kissing another male despite having a girlfriend. A couple touches each other’s knees. A teen is looked at by a cashier in a way that makes her uncomfortable. A teen is described as “hot” with “huge tits”. A teen supposedly shakes her ass to give her neighbor a show. A teen got pregnant and had a baby (this is a co-worker of a character, not someone we spend time learning about). A teen tells another teen something about his sister. The implication is that what was said was sexual, but also not true. A character very frequently thinks of girls as slutty teases. A teen daydreams about the person he has a crush on, wishing they could hold hands like they did when they were seven on a field trip. There’s talk about whether a female would “put out”. Teens stare at another teens rear end. Teens fantasize about teachers. They try to use basketball terms in a sexy manner. They speculate regarding the sexual orientation of their teachers and which other teachers they might be interested in. Two males kiss. One puts his hand on the other’s thigh. One of these teens is out to his family, the other is not out. A teen says his neighbors look like they want to eat his sister and that he means that “in the grossest way possible”. A teen tells a girl’s brother that he “had her” and that she liked it. Someone worries that people think about his sister when they masturbate (the term is not used, but the activity implied). Teens look at Playboy. Someone illustrates a boob next to a man’s face in an advertisement. It’s said the only way someone would sleep with someone else is if she were drugged. Someone makes a sexually suggestive comment about the bus driver and his finger. A male teen simulates sex with the air.
Profanity – Well, teens will definitely be able to tell you that the front cover is a way of giving the middle finger. Someone gives the middle finger. “crap/crappy”, “Christ”, “Jesus”, “bitching”, “ass/asshole”, “little prick”, “pussy”, “moron”, “dumbass”, “dick”, “screw”, “goddamned/damn/damned”, “hell”, “suck”, “jerk”, “oh my God”, “dickhead”, “bitch”, “slut”, “hell”, “bastards”, “douche”, “homo”, “fag”, “queer”, “dyke”, all used as slurs, “fuck/ers” is used only by an adult,
Death, Violence and Gore – Someone breaks a finger in gym class. Someone is beaten by an adult. A teen knows he is risking be slapped by a parent. A teen’s parent is killed by a drunk driver. A teen used to be beaten up by peers on the bus. A teacher committed suicide by shooting himself. A former student thinks back on how he used to hit other students. He spends a lot of time trying to make himself calm enough not to do violence. A teen deliberately causes a car accident for extortion purposes, luckily no one is hurt. A teen is hit by a car. The driver checks on the victim but leaves the scene. A teen says he wants to kill someone. A teen slaps someone. A teen repeatedly puts his hand on a female’s thigh and makes suggestive motions, despite being told “no”. The same teen later uses his finger to attempt to violate a female, leaving her scratched and scraped.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – a random mention of drug-addicts is made. A man smells of cigarettes. A man uses chewing tobacco. A man doesn’t tolerate stoners where he works, although he calls two people working there stoners. A 19 year old is allowed to drink beer at dinner with his father. Teens drink, smoke cigarettes, steal alcohol from their parents and smoke weed. Adults drink. A man is a recovered alcoholic.
Frightening or Intense Things – Girls eat only lettuce and spend time concerned with their weight. A man has a medical emergency at a restaurant and falls to the floor. His condition is not immediately apparent. Someone’s mother had mental health issues before leaving to be with her doctor. Mother is a hoarder. A man keeps jumping in front of a car to try to get it to hit him. A policeman tells a teen that she shouldn’t drive alone at night. There’s an implication that maybe someone killed someone in a car crash.