Author: Katie Williams
Genre: Contemporary YA/ Mystery
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: Jun 2010
Hardcover: 280 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
This story was supposed to be about Evie–how she hadn’t made a friend in years; how she tends to stretch the truth, especially when it comes to her so-called relationship with college dropout Jonah Luks; how she comes into her own once she learns to just be herself–but it isn’t, because when Evie’s classmate is found murdered in the woods, everything changes and Evie’s life is never the same again.
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: I was offered a review copy of the book and once I saw the cover and read the blurb, I accepted.
The beauty of a paper route is this: You put a paper on a doormat. Done.
Just like the quote above, The Space Between Trees and its teenage protagonist Evie are deceptively plain.
A girl, Elizabeth “Zabet” McCabe’s, is murdered in the woods that surround Evie’s paper delivery route. Her body is found on a Sunday, and Evie is there to see it being carried away. Later, she discovers that it was Zabet who died, a girl her age, someone she knew a long time ago. At the girl’s funeral, Evie tells a terrible lie to Zabet’s father: she tells him that she was one of Zabet’s closest friends. The poor man, distraught with grief, uses that to try and connect with his dead daughter via (made up) stories that Evie tells and the only person who knows the truth is Hadley, Zabet’s real best friend. But possibly out of compassion, Hadley doesn’t reveal the truth to Zabet’s father, preferring instead to confront Evie in private, after which the two girls strike an uneasy friendship which is charged with not only grief, but fear, regret and the need to come to tears with Zabet’s death.
At the risk of sounding extremely trivial, The Space Between Treesis hauntingly beautiful and the writing is amazing. I was enraptured by it, by lines and paragraphs that were so wonderfully lyrical. The problem with “lyrical” is that sometimes that quality may be hiding emptiness of plot, of character, of story. Not in this case. Everything in this book, including the title and the awesome cover (a laser cut cover with the silhouette of the trees in black against purple background with the title) has a much deeper meaning than it seems at first.
For there is a space between trees. And that space is everything. It is the now empty space where the body was found, and that empty space haunts most, if not all characters in this novel. The teenage girls who are now faced with the truth that even young people can find tragic deaths; college dropout and Evie’s crush Jonah Lucks, the person who found the body; Zabet’s father who wishes to make up for time lost and who is aware that that emptiness is reflected in his own life; troubled Hadley who lost a friend and who might know more than she is saying and there is trauma there that do not go well with her messed up personality at all.
Above all, the space between trees may well be Evie herself:
At school that Monday after, (…) somehow my name was never whispered, as if I were a ghost, an escapee, the space between the trees, the page on which a story is written.
And Evie in undoubtedly my favourite thing about the book. Evie, who is a 16 year old still running a paper delivery route because it is simple. Evie, who is emotionally distant to everybody including her mother. Evie, who has no friends and who is possibly the most socially inept, awkward, downright weird protagonist of a contemporary YA book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. For a myriad of reasons, Evie is a character that made me uncomfortable at the same time that it made me care.
I think the best representation of a weird teenager is this: Evie sits everyday at lunch with a group of girls. But she never truly reaches out to make real conversations because she doesn’t seem to know how. Instead, after learning that the girls also have a crush on Jonah, she tries to make conversation with him for the strict purpose of relaying whatever it is that they talked about, as puerile as it was, to the girls. She collects the ensuing conversations and reactions from the girls as someone would scientifically collect insects, with a clinical, almost cold eye:
I’d weigh a phrase or spit out a particular word like I couldn’t hold it in my mouth any longer, how I’d say a sentence quietly to make them lean in, how I’d collect their wide eyes and sucks of breath like beads I could string on a bracelet.
As much as she is capable of such chillingly reserved actions, the fact is that perhaps she has no grounds for a different behaviour. It partly scary, partly pitiful. At the same time she can be extremely naïve, almost unbelievably so, who just follows Hadley into whatever scrapes the girl would take them. Almost, because for someone who is just so alone and emotionally distant, it is realistically that she would not know how to behave at parties or with guys.
But after Zabet’s death it is as though she is moved by a sense of urgency perhaps affected by the understanding that time is passing, that she should do something, be more than a space between trees; and that mixture of earnestness, naivety that leads to a string of painfully idiotic decision and the keen observations that she is capable of, was almost painful to read. But there is growing up to do until she is no longer…just a space between trees.
Notable Quotes/Parts: A few more lovely quotes from the book:
Mom grew up beautiful. Now some beautiful people let their beauty just lie there on them, like a coat of sweat on their face, but Mom, she manages hers. She orders her beauty into shape like a squad of soldiers or a page of math problems. So when she finally decides to look up at me, her face is all set, her beauty ready to salute.
After an interaction with Jonah, he says “oh” ( I won’t say why):
It is not the oh of being presented with a surprise gift, nor is it the oh of finding a spider in the shower; rather, it is the tiny syllable mouthed during the pause in someone’s tedious story, an inoffensive and noncommittal oh, its only purpose to show that, yes, you have been listening to whatever the speaker droned on about. Oh. It says everything.(…) Shame creeps from its secrete hovels in my throat and eye sockets. This shame presses against me, doubling, tripling, expanding until I might explode into ribbons or confetti. And I will allow it; I will let myself explode, just as soon as I find the goddamn door handle.
Verdict: The Space Between Trees is a lovely book and one that took me completely by surprise. Definitely one of the highlights this year.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart