Jodi Picoult and her 16-year-old muse

Jodi Picoult had an ideal co-author on a new book - her teenage daughter, finds Nicky Pellegrino.

Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer wrote together. Photo / Adam Bouska
Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer wrote together. Photo / Adam Bouska

What a cool, clever, imaginative book Between The Lines (A&U, $29.99) is. Aimed at older kids and young adults, it's the result of a collaboration between best-selling US author Jodi Picoult and her 16-year-old daughter Samantha van Leer.

The idea was Samantha's, and Picoult claims they took turns writing sentences. This doesn't sound like a technique calculated to result in a good book but somehow it has. In fact, Between The Lines has the feel of a future classic and reminded me a little of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

It begins as a standard-issue fairy tale with a "Once upon a time ..." and a handsome prince on a dangerous quest to fight a dragon. But there's a brilliant twist - the characters act out the lines only when the book is open. As soon as the reader closes it, they're free to go off and do their own thing - baking, painting pictures, playing chess on a board they draw in the sand - so long as when a crack opens along the seam and there's a blinding light, they all immediately take their places in the story.

Handsome Prince Oliver is chafing against this existence. Sick of repeating the same tale over and over, tired of the happily-ever-afters and curious about the world outside, he longs to escape the pages. He's tried talking to the readers directly but no one ever hears him.

Then along comes Delilah. A high-school misfit, she is obsessed by the sweet fairy tale. She reads it over and over until she is so steeped in it, she is able to see beyond the story. She winds up being able to communicate with Oliver whenever he's alone on page 43.

Conversing with a fairy-tale character has the inevitable result and Delilah winds up in therapy. But she's undaunted. In love with the handsome prince and determined to help him join her in the real world, she embarks on a risky adventure.

This is far from classic Picoult but it does have some of the ingredients that have made her novels such a success: snappy readable prose, a gripping central conflict, expert plotting and interesting human relationships. Meanwhile, Samantha has contributed the authentic internal monologue of a teenage girl.

It is aimed at kids, but this book is sophisticated enough to cross over as a light adult read. The book-within-a-book concept is cleverly constructed; it's warm, funny and fresh. There are some lovely old-fashioned illustrations and the book's been designed so even young readers should be able to follow the frequent shifts in point of view.

With all the Twilight-style romances around at present, it makes a refreshing change to have a love story in which the male character needs rescuing. A sweet, charming book to capture the imagination.

* See books editor Nicky Pellegrino in conversation with Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer at their only New Zealand appearance on July 23, at 7pm, at Auckland's Aotea Centre. Book at buytickets.co.nz.

- Herald on Sunday

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