Emily and Jesse could not be more different: while Emily is the vice president of the student council, Jesse is the founding and only member of NOLAW, National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos, and, for the most part, remains an outcast. Regardless, the two forge a secret relationship, meeting up every Tuesday in the library bathroom to spend private time with one another. It’s clear from the beginning that Jesse has true feelings for Emily, but Emily wants to keep their relationship a secret from everyone—including her boyfriend.
But when Emily seeks help from StarMart—a massive company with a questionable reputation—to fund a school dance, and Jesse begins fighting to keep StarMart out of their school, the girls are forced to face how different they really are, and to question what it is that they’re doing together.
The Difference Between You and Me is at times a little messy, both in character development and writing style. Emily’s chapters are written in an easy-to-read first person, but Jesse’s are written in an awkward, third person present tense. I don’t know if this is an attempt to set up a contrast between the two girls’ personalities, but it felt clunkier than Jesse’s fisherman boots. What’s more is that two of the chapters are written in the voice of Esther, another classmate of Emily and Jesse, who, while an important character to the story, talks mostly about her love of Joan of Arc. George’s choice to give Esther her own chapters seems an odd one, especially since Esther’s beliefs and motives came out loud and clear in the rest of the story.
I really like Jesse; her personality and actions throughout the novel are consistent, and she comes off as genuine and human in her shift from solo political rogue to tag-team anti-StarMart campaigner, as well as in her questioning of her beliefs.
Emily, however, is a bit trickier to decipher. She is a very proper and by-the-book person, which is odd considering that she is cheating on her boyfriend with a girl who is nothing like her. About her sexual orientation, she states right at the beginning of the novel, “With me, it’s about the person”–which would have been understandable if she seemed to genuinely care about Jesse’s feelings, or if she liked her for her personality rather than for how hard she kisses her.
The ending is satisfactory, though left a little ambiguous. Certainly, though, a little fogginess on the part of Jesse and Emily is okay; relationships in the teen world are rarely clear-cut and understandable. I also like the twist that George puts on Jesse and Emily’s relationship, serving as a reminder that not every same-sex relationship is a cookie-cutter tale of who is and is not out of the closet.
I had really wanted The Difference Between You and Me to be perfect; there’s no doubt that teen fiction featuring LGBT characters is in short supply. And I feel that if the writing were a bit neater and the concepts more clear this book could be a real heavy hitter with all teens—though there are likely those who will find strength in the subject matter regardless.
Emily Weaver enjoys museum galleries, wading in streams, and the more-than-occasional episode of anime. She also hopes to travel the world some day.