Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington is a stand-alone YA speculative fiction novel. I picked it up as a break from awards reading and accidentally stayed up till the wee hours reading it in one sitting (well, lying-in-beding).
For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every 24 hours she Shifts to her ′other′ life - a life where she is exactly the same, but absolutely everything else is different: different family, different friends, different social expectations. In one life she has a sister, in the other she does not. In one life she′s a straight-A student with the perfect boyfriend, in the other she′s considered a reckless delinquent. Nothing about her situation has ever changed, until the day when she discovers a glitch: the arm she breaks in one life is perfectly fine in the other.

With this new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of increasingly risky experiments which bring her dangerously close to the life she′s always wanted... But just what - and who - is she really risking?
This was an enjoyable read. It starts out a little pedestrian as we get to know Sabine but soon becomes interesting. Sabine's two lives — in what seem to be parallel universes — are generally archetypal apart from the fact that there's two of them. In one life her family is struggling to get by, living in Boston, putting on a bit of a tough goth façade, and in the other life she comes from a wealthy family with a large suburban house with a pool and an unlimited supply of clothes. Up until the opening of the book, any physical alternations to her body carried over between worlds, so she had to be careful about apparently unexplainable injuries and leaves her hair long since she can't think of a hairstyle that would suit both lives (and dye doesn't travel over, lol). Having to live each day twice is exhausting and gets tedious but she can't see a way out.

The story starts when she breaks her arm in the poor life only to have the break not travel with her to the rich life. For the first time in her lives, physical changes are not carrying over. That her first impulse is to experiment and verify that all types of physical changes are immune made me quickly warm to her. I mean, she was a bit reckless, but at least she was methodical and probably braver than I would have been.

The story got really interesting when Sabine's experiments landed her in the psych ward because her parents thought she was suicidal and delusional (the latter because she told them about her other life). From there, the novel briefly examines the isolation and deprivation of rights of psych patients, particularly ones who have been committed, all while rich Sabine has to try to hold her life together while knowing her other life is falling apart.

Rich Sabine's life isn't perfect either. Her parents are divorced, her brothers are a bit mean to her and she can't stand having to kiss her boyfriend, despite him being "perfect" on paper. These obviously amount to fewer problems than she has in her other life, but she isn't particularly happy despite trying to convince herself that she should be. I was at one point wondering how much like Sliding Doors it was going to end up being, but it turned out to be pleasantly unique (even if the very end was a smidge predictable). Although the start of the book is level, the ending sequence was gut-wrenching in both lives. I really couldn't put it down until it was over.

I highly recommend Between the Lives to fans of YA both contemporary and speculative. The speculative element is minor enough that it could be categorised as pure contemporary (and I think it was by the publishers) but there's a distinctive "what if" science fictional vibe to it which should also engage fans of speculative fiction.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Harper Collins AU
Series: Nope.
Format read: Paper
Source: Purchased in Australia, probably on sale in a physical bookshop, I've forgotten
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

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