By the end, I felt as if I could hear the voices of all ten characters (yes there are ten), each of them narrating just one day, in one high school. Yet, each story felt universal and I truly believe there is wisdom and understanding waiting for anyone who indulges in this story.
The notion of having ten chapters from ten separate characters seems daunting. Yet, Knowles provides a lovely cast of characters that feel complete. There is a sense of satisfaction as the story plays out and the pieces of the puzzle are revealed. I certainly felt this way, trying to figure out how they all connected.
I absolutely adore a multiple character structure. Usually in a first person narrative, what the character says the reader must take at face value. If they say someone is bad, we believe them. But in this story, each time a character said they didn't like another for x, y, or z reasons, the logic behind the animosity was turned upside down. By the time I got to the other character's chapter I couldn't help but start to see things from their point of view and it led toward a sympathetic response to all ten characters.
Notably, each chapter relies on the next to weave together a complex story of discovery, love, and hope. It's breathtaking. Starting in gym class, it's as if Knowles has summoned the uncomfortable, anxious ghosts of high school's past to give a glimpse into our first character's life. With an injury to the middle finger, this character kicks off a domino effect from one middle finger to another, connecting each character. But it's more than just seeing someone flip the bird (or doing it themselves) that connects these characters. Though they might not always be able to see it, or understand it, each of them is connected by the people they know, the things they've done, and are willing to do. And that's fantastic!
Jo Knowles seems to understand the pain of being misunderstood, the complete loneliness that comes from being in a group of friends who might not really know you. She recognizes the want to be understood and I think it's because that want doesn't ever really go away. There's this heightened need to fit in while roaming youth-filled halls, but it's just the same for everyone. I'm not sure anyone has had the same bullying experience as some of these characters, and maybe the author was never bullied like her characters, but she makes the reader feel as if she understands.
In a world where nobody seems to "get it" this is so profound. She speaks through words and events and characters that might not have been her own experiences in high school, but they are filled with rich emotion and belief that there is something better beyond the landscape of adolescence. I want to believe that hope comes from understanding others as much as one's self. Being able to empathize with people is a true gift, one I'm sure Knowles advocates for each of her fictional friends as well as those of us who exist in the real world.
I started thinking of my own bullies from high school, wondering what their real stories were and even are today. It's taken me a long time to get to this point. But reading this book made me hopeful for others who've been or who might be in a similar situation. If I'd read this back then, I think it might've been easier to let those wounds heal and to move on.
Understanding is something I'm still striving for. Jo Knowles teaches this philosophy of reading between the lines, as referenced by the book's title, and I think it has to do with looking past the surface of what's happening to what's hidden from sight. It's about realizing we don't know everything about everyone and making the effort to try to understand them anyway.
There's something to be said of books that speak to you, but more about those that really make you listen. This was one of those books that made me listen not only to its words, but also to my present self, letting the me from high school know that it gets better. And it does, it really does. I have no doubt that anyone who encounters this book will be changed. Whether you're navigating the hallways of high school right now or simply remembering them, I urge you to pick this book up!