Jesse is seeing Emily. Emily's a junior. She's the vice president of the student council. She's perky, popular, and sweet - and she's keeping her relationship with Jesse a secret. Emily has a boyfriend who is just as popular as she is, and no one at school has an inkling that Emily knows who Jesse is, much less has a romantic interest in her.
When Jesse and Emily find themselves on opposite sides of an issue that will change both their school and their community, the differences between them might prove too much for them to take.
Their story is told in alternating chapters, with Emily speaking in first person, Jesse in third. Author Madeleine George has created two wholly different voices, both realistic and powerful. Readers listen closely to Emily, then see through Jesse's eyes. Emily sounds as if she's talking directly to the reader - she's smart, but she's also very modern and conversational. Jesse's portions are detailed, aware, and conscious. The last time I read a third-person present-tense narrative as engrossing as Jesse's was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. (I wish that Jesse could meet Frankie Landau-Banks and hang out with Parker from The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson. I also want Emily to chat with Natalie Sterling from Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian.) A third narrator sneaks in, just a few times, just enough to make her own impact - but if you want to know who that person is, you'll have to read the book.
Supporting characters include Jesse's awesome parents, Emily's boyfriend, and local activists of all ages. Instead of being the cliche conceited popular high school jock, Emily's boyfriend Mike is truly nice, attentive, and supportive. Jesse's mother is a cancer survivor, her father a family therapist. Jesse's best friend is another out teen, Wyatt, whose has a talent for turning thrift store finds into memorable ensembles that others might see as costumes. Wyatt became homeschooled at the beginning of ninth grade, a result of years of issues with a classmate who was tormenting him. Then there's Esther, the Joan of Arc aficionado with messy, uneven pigtails, who is possibly the most determined person Jesse's ever met. I'd love to play Esther in the film adaptation. Just give me blue contacts, and I'm there. I've got the braids, the conviction, and the glitter, so bring it on.
I highly recommend this book and plan to include on my Best Books of 2012 list. I enjoyed The Difference Between You and Me just as much as I enjoyed the author's debut novel, Looks. They both tackle high school social hierarchies head-on. What Looks said about shape, Difference says about attraction.
The Difference Between You and Me fights for what's right, and for the right to be yourself. The characters are looking for peace - some in the world, some in themselves - and are so passionate about causes that readers can't help but be moved by their devotion. Jesse in particular is raw and real, and Emily is so well-meaning that you can't hate her, even when when you want her to be more truthful to herself and to Jesse and Mike. There's so much in these pages, so much you should read and contemplate and share.
"But sometimes you have to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and make a really hard decision. Sometimes the kind of brave you have to be isn't split-second, change-your-life brave, it's big-picture, think-about-your-future brave. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something you love, if you don't want to lose everything you have." - Emily, page 216
The entirety of Chapter 15.
The fantastic scene with Jesse, Wyatt, and Wyatt's father in Chapter 19.
The manifestos throughout the book.
The closing sentence.
The list of resources the author includes at the end, encouraging others to Make a Difference.
Booklist: Tough Issues for Teens
Booklist: Multiple Narrators
Book Review: Looks by Madeleine George