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Read Between the Lines

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Does anyone ever see us for who we really are? Jo Knowles’s revelatory novel of interlocking stories peers behind the scrim as it follows nine teens and one teacher through a seemingly ordinary day.

Thanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a "big girl," she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published March 10, 2015

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About the author

Jo Knowles

13 books748 followers
Hi! I'm the author of several books for kids and teens. including Ear Worm!,Meant To Be, and See You at Harry's. I'm available for school, library and book club visits either in person or via Zoom. For more info, please visit www.joknowles.com Thanks! :-)

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5 stars
396 (21%)
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659 (35%)
3 stars
596 (31%)
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172 (9%)
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49 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 338 reviews
Profile Image for Carol Royce Owen.
970 reviews14 followers
October 2, 2014
There have been very few times in my career as a teacher that I have thought, "I wish I taught middle or high school. Most often, I say a blessing that I've never had to go that route. But then a book like Read Between The Lines come along and I wish I had students old enough to share it with. I may be able to find some mature 6th graders who will get it and love it, but no...the discussions I would want to have about this one are better for older students.

The story is many stories in one - all characters connected through the town they live in and school they go to (or went to). Some of the characters are cheerleaders, but Jo Knowles does a great job of sparing us from the typical stereotype of cheerleaders and I actually found myself liking these girls a lot. Others are stoners and jocks and nerds, the typical makeup of a high school. What all the characters have in common was a sense of not knowing where they belonged, and how they got where they are now. Most feel empty or hollow, and everyone of them want a change in their lives, but don't know how to bring about that change. They all, also, have been given the finger by someone recently, and react differently to the experience.

If I had to choose a favorite character, I couldn't. Having finished the book last night, I thought about each, and each has haunted me in some way. Even characters who you want to hate, such as the recent graduate working as a manager in a fast food restaurant who is bitter and cross with his workers and antagonizes his neighbors because of their sloppy yard. I found I couldn't hate him. I knew his history and enough about him now, and I knew why he was the way he was, and I couldn't dislike him. And that, I think is the purpose of this book. It's likely that we've all probably been given the finger at sometime. It's easy to become hateful toward that person, but I think Jo Knowles wants us to look deeper and consider what lead that person to that moment.

Oh, there is so much more I could say about this book, as there is so much to love. Please get it and read it when it is released, and you will see.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books885 followers
January 19, 2015
Jo Knowles "novel" is more like a series of connected short stories, each overlapping, some sharing common characters from a typical high school with typical high school "sorts" (Breakfast Club without end, amen). The trouble with such a strategy lies in the characterization. None of the characters get a chance to gather traction with the reader. What's more, you will often meet a character never to meet him or her again, except perhaps in passing or by mention of another character much later in the book.

So if you take a shining to a particular character and his or her background (the exposition of which must be covered in each new section), tough luck. You will be disappointed when Knowles moves on. And move on she does. There are many stories here. The boy whose dad does not love him. The overweight cheerleader. The popular girl looking for something more. The regular guy looking for something more as well. The high school drop-out working at a fast food restaurant. The star quarterback who has a fake girlfriend and a secret love for another boy. The new teacher who gets eaten alive by unruly students every day.

Some of these scenarios offer YA staples -- characters with predictable woes and behaviors. Others appear a bit more successful. And the conceit holding them all together? You guessed it, oh cover-glancer. The middle finger. Every episode features either our star of the moment giving the finger or getting it. There are more flipped birds here than Tippi Hendren could imagine in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, The Birds. Alas, the bird-flipping doesn't do much for the book and in many cases looks forced. No need to read between any lines, in that case. Trying too hard becomes obvious.

Bottom line? There are some nice stretches of writing, but the center does not hold. I'm tempted to say the design itself is at fault, but then I recall the classic Winesburg, Ohio, which also stitches stories with common characters together -- and succeeds. Perhaps it is a design that requires refined skills. Or perhaps Sherwood Anderson's "grotesques" (as his lovable loser characters are called) are too difficult to emulate, especially with the well-worn stock characters of YA lit set in high schools. Some students may take to these characters, I'm sure, but many others may lose patience without the forward momentum of any true plot.
Profile Image for Kelly Gunderman.
Author 2 books77 followers
August 4, 2015
Check out this and other reviews on my blog, Here's to Happy Endings!

I actually rated this 4.5 stars, but I'm feeling generous so I'm rounding up to 5!

I absolutely adored this book. The characters, their stories, the settings...everything about this book was so well written and captivating, it made me want to read the entire book without taking a break (and with this one, that's pretty much what I did. Oops.).

There are ten chapters, each narrated by a different character, all living in the same town. The stories in this book essentially take place over the course of a day (with a few exceptions, like the background story for the characters), and all of their stories are intertwined. It reminds me a lot of those movies, such as Crash and 11:14, only in a young adult novel with a high school setting (and it's infinitely better, by the way). Although the stories are pretty short, (and I'm pretty sure each character could have their own book, because wow, these are some good stories), they are written in such a way that you can't help but become attached to each character and wonder what's next. Every part of the story is important, especially the social interactions with the other characters, and after two or three stories, you can tell how well each character's life is fitting in with the others.

The characters all live different lives, and each character has his or her own share of secrets. From the popular girl who longs for more than just being part of meaningless conversation with her shallow friends, to the young man who secretly wishes his mother would come home so he and his father could stop missing her, to the cheerleader who has a boyfriend who is in love with another boy on the side, these stories are all completely different and gives a little insight into how different our lives really are. I don't want to go into detail about the characters or the stories in this book, because I believe that it's something you really have to read for yourself to truly appreciate.

This book is a wonderful work of young adult fiction that will show you that no one's life is perfect, and everyone has a side of them that no one else sees. It is a fantastic read that will stick with you for a long time after you've read it, and it will make you really think about what other people are going through - things that you might not know, but are still happening anyway.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,012 reviews17 followers
March 19, 2015
This is a smart little book that expertly weaved together several different events taking place over the course of a single day. I loved the complex way it illustrated how our actions can effect others and how decisions we make can cause a ripple around us. It was a quick read, but a lot was packed in here and provides much to linger over long after the final page is read.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,204 followers
February 14, 2015
Told through ten separate points of view in a short, vignette style, Knowles writes a page-turner set over the course of a single day. Like Siobhan Vivian does in THE LIST, this is a story about what lies beneath the surface of people we see and encounter every day. There's the boy who lives with a distant father; the just-graduated boy who is counting his time before he can move on to his dream job; the brother and sister who are harassed by their neighbor and who live with a mother who is a hoarder; a gay couple that can't be out and open; the girl who feels like she's nobody; the fat girl struggling with fitting in and accepting herself for who she is when she feels unsupported for it; and more. Knowles masterfully weaves these narratives together using the middle finger -- yes, giving the middle finger -- as her anchor. It's smart and savvy. But it's far more than a superficial gesture.

All of the characters have distinct voices, though not all of their stories have the same resonance. That's not a flaw, but a feature of this book. Different readers will connect in different ways, seeing bits of themselves in some places more than others. But ultimately, it's a book about empathy and understanding the complex situations all people are coming from and more, understanding complexity is itself a complex idea.

Fans of Vivian's novel will love this.
Profile Image for Chloe.
85 reviews74 followers
May 6, 2015
I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. It really made you think, and I loved the multiple perspectives showing all that happened throughout one single day.
Profile Image for Alisha Marie.
827 reviews76 followers
February 3, 2015
Slight disclaimer: I really found Read Between the Lines to be more of a 3-and-a-half-stars kind of book, but I'm being nice and rounding up to four stars instead of rounding slightly down to three stars. Maybe this is because it's been a while since I've been impressed with a young adult book that when Read Between the Lines came to my life, I found myself not wanting to roll my eyes even once at it. And that's a first this year (and probably through much of last year) that that's happened.

I was really surprised that I really liked Read Between the Lines. Mainly because it's sort of done in a vignette kind of style (as opposed to a full-fledged flowing narrative) that has all of the vignettes interconnecting. It's rare that I like books that are done in this way. I tend to prefer my stories to be told in chronological order (unless you're non-fiction) with one flowing narrative as opposed to a dozen smaller ones. However, Read Between the Lines does the vignette style really well, for the most part. And while there were some vignettes that I liked more than others, there isn't any one that I would categorize as being a dud. They were all exceptionally written and really engaging.

One thing that I have to say for Read Between the Lines was that it was incredibly unique. I liked that the vignettes all centered around people giving each other the finger (something that I don't think has been done before). As someone who has read tons of YA, I'm starting to find that all of the ones that are categorized as "fantasy" or "sci-fi", are just not as as intriguing to me as they used to be. They're all starting to seem stagnant to me and all seem to follow the same pattern. A pattern that a contemporary YA novel just doesn't follow...or at least a pattern that THIS young adult novel doesn't follow. It was fresh and for that, I applaud it.

The reason I found Read Between the Lines to be a four star (or 3 1/2) book was because I wanted MORE. I wanted to know more about the characters after the events that happened in the book. I wanted full-fledged novels centered on each character individually. I would've liked to get to know them better (which is still giving kudos to the author because she really did write fantastic characters). Also, while I did really like Read Between the Lines and liked the characters and the storyline, I was never enamored with it. And for a book to get that (now elusive) five star rating, I have to love it with my whole soul. And I didn't LOVE Read Between the Lines. However, I really, really liked it.

So, despite some teeny, tiny flaws, I still wholeheartedly recommend Read Between the Lines. It was intriguing, unique, and just an all around good novel. At this point, I'm starting to embrace contemporary YA more and more because apparently that's where it's at now. Oh, I also need to check out more of Jo Knowles writing because this is now my third book by her and I've liked them all.
Profile Image for Maria.
77 reviews64 followers
November 13, 2015
REVIEW: This book left me with mixed emotions. I really liked it and thought it was nice, but it was so darn confusing! Going into this, I thought that it would be like an Ellen Hopkins book that followed different people and would follow them through the story. This was different by that, there was only one “chapter” on each person and they didn’t go back to having another chapter again. I feel like if I knew the setup of this book before going into it, I would’ve been less confused. I’ll warn you guys now so you won’t have to go through what I did: In this book, each chapter is told from the advantage point of a different person all the time. They interfere and intercept a lot but they don’t get to tell another chapter. I have to admit, it was confusing since the entire book takes place in a day but the story was nice. I liked the plot and characters. I didn’t quite understand why they threw in the teacher chapter one and I thought that was a bit irrelevant and the story could’ve done without it. I found it actually pretty cool that there were all these characters who told the story had so much interference with other people’s lives and half the time they didn’t know. The punch line: This book takes place in a day and follows a different person for each chapter but once you get the hang of it, the interference with everyone’s lives ends up being amazing. So, yeah. I’m giving this 8.25 stars.


Age Recommendation:
13 and up

Rating Breakdown:

Cover: 6.5/10 – worth 0 points
Originality of Plot : 8.5/10 – worth 20 points
Climax(es): 9/10 – worth 20 points
Characters: 8.5/10 – worth 20 points
My Opinion: 7.25/10 – worth 40 points
Overall: 8.25/10 – in between Pretty good and Amazing!- closer to Pretty good

Genres and Categories: 2015 release, contemporary, cover color black, fiction, high-school, lgbtqia, realistic fiction, young-adult

Rating (if made into movie) : PG-13 – drugs, underage drinking, etc.

Pages: 336

Originally Published: March 10th 2015 by Candlewick Press

How I obtained book: got from local library

Awards: none yet

When I read book: September 10-12, 2015
Profile Image for Kat Heckenbach.
Author 32 books226 followers
January 15, 2015
I really wanted to be blown away by this book, after reading such glowing reviews. And it did have some good moments. But for the most part, it read like a series of after-school specials. While I did connect to some of the characters, they too often felt one-dimensional, each of them going through the same pattern: pages of angst, followed by an a-ha moment, and then feeling suddenly that everything is going to be just fine, all amid a world where adults are complete mental cases. The tie-together is that everyone in the book either gives someone the finger, or is on the receiving end. While I don't find that particularly clever, it is an unusual idea, and unusual intrigues me, but too often the finger incident in each chapter felt contrived. The writing is overall actually pretty good, so I'd consider giving another book by this author a try, but I would not recommend this book to any of my fellow YA fiction fans.
Profile Image for Carole.
827 reviews10 followers
July 14, 2017
This author has a knack for getting teen voices spot on. Each chapter in this book is narrated by a different character, giving different perspectives of the same events. What is probably a fairly normal day is given extra depth when you can see a bit deeper into the feelings and motivations of all the main players. A great book for promoting empathy, and one I think lots of teens will relate to and enjoy.
Profile Image for Jeff Raymond.
3,092 reviews178 followers
March 10, 2015
Jo Knowles is pretty great even when it's a little off the mark, but Read Between the Lines is a complete miss for me, from topic to structure to overall narrative. Inspired by Knowles getting flipped off while driving, too much of this book ultimately made me want to flip it off instead.

The story starts with a kid having his middle finger broken during a basketball game. The story then becomes more of a nihilistic collection of short tales that surround the same group of people. Teens in dead-end jobs after dropping out. Abusive parents. Weight issues. Gay teens. You name the issue, it's probably highlighted here. It tries to be everything to everyone, but with basically no optimism to speak of (the final story, from the point of view of a teacher, really sums it up), it lacks the same sort of weight that I'd maybe expect or even want to read and recommend.

There's a place for darkness and for negativity, even in young adult literature. It didn't work here for me at all, feeling forced and out of character. I can't recommend this one, even if it might be something that might resonate with the darkest of the dark. It just isn't there.
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,264 reviews215 followers
September 15, 2017
Over the course of a day over ten adults and students connected to Irving High School will give or receive the middle finger.

READ BETWEEN THE LINES is in many ways 10 short stories, although some characters showed up in more than one chapter (story). I love Jo Knowles's writing in this and her other books. I can't help rooting for even her most loathsome characters. Each person in READ BETWEEN THE LINES could have had a whole book. Most of the stories felt incomplete and left me hanging. The last chapter answered a few of the questions in an unsatisfactory manner.

If you're a reader who doesn't mind stories without resolution, disregard my criticism. Although I wanted more, I'm glad I perused READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,188 reviews
August 31, 2021
This is one of those "inflated a bit for being YA". It is probably a 4 star book, but easy to read and holds together very well so it gets 5 stars.

Nothing is profound, but Knowles does a good job of narrating the day through ten different characters at the same high school. All of the characters are different (from the abused wimpy boy to the basketball star) and stereotypical, but they are all genuine people who feel themselves to be different from the world's perception of them: "just like there is more to her than what they see, there is more inside each one of them".

High school is such an angsty time of self discovery, Knowles really captures both the universalism and the individualism of this struggle.

Overall it is a funny, true read about a crazy random day.
6 reviews
October 12, 2017
"Read Between the Lines" is a great example of what you see is not always all that there is. Jo Knowles finds a way to intertwine the lives of ten different people whose lives cross with each other at some point or another to help you understand what is really going on. While reading the book, I got to see the truths and secrets of each character; stuff that the other characters didn't even know about each other. I would definitely recommend this book for reading.
Profile Image for Girlwithapen93.
107 reviews2 followers
February 27, 2017
There is only one thing about this book that I like. The writing. And that is it. I brought this book in Melbourne and have only struggled my way through it out of guilt because I didn’t want it to be a waste having lugged it all the way home from Melbourne. So, I have been struggling to get through this book since about 3 pages in and have really no idea what it is about. The blurb I have added above sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well that is what sucked me into the book in the first place, but the blurb is nothing compared to the story.
The story follows a group of individuals and what happens to them on one specific day. It goes from person to person, all in first person, until the last person who is written in third person. A combination of high school students, nerds, jocks, cheerleaders to adults, wealthy, poor and struggling. It is a who’s who in the book, mixed with a bunch of weird friends to make it worse. The names are confusing and the set out of the story doesn’t really help. The concept is great but it wasn’t executed properly. I think if the stories were more involved with each other and you didn’t have to wait for the next one to know how they all know each other, then it would have flowed better. The book feels like a group of short stories that happen to slightly interrelate with each other. It’s not a complete story even though it is trying to handle a few pretty heavy themes throughout the story.
Suicide, depression, mental health illnesses, and a whole range of other issues are played out in the story and even though there is supposed to be some sort of message to this book, I honestly couldn’t tell you what it is meant to be.
The front cover art work is pretty cool, not something you see on many young adult books and it is pretty much the main reason why I picked up this book. I thought it would be better and I really wanted it to be, but it just didn’t work for me in the end.
If you are looking for a unique combination of short stories that don’t seamlessly connect about teenagers and adults, then this is the book for you.
I give this book 1.5 out of 5 Booky Stars!
Profile Image for Michelle (Pink Polka Dot Books).
489 reviews344 followers
February 23, 2016
Something NEW and fresh!! I love a book that takes a chance... this book is narrated by 10 different people and it SO works

Nate, Claire, Dewey, Jack, Stephen, Keith, Dylan, Lacy, Grace, and Ms. Lindsay. Ten people, one day. This is the story of ten people who are all connected to Irving High in some way and all want to see themselves as something different and/or wonder if anyone ever sees the real them. It's a normal day in a suburban town, but it's on this most ordinary day that these ten people show us what it's like to walk in their shoes. Heartbreak, bullying, family problems, and high school.... that pretty much sums up this book.

My Thoughts:
This is by far my favorite Jo Knowles book!! She really got it right this time! I've read 2 other books by this author and always felt like something was missing from them. At the same time, something about her writing and the way she draws me in, always makes me want to read more by her. This book made me so happy I stuck it out.

The setting takes place over the same 24-hour period, but you get to see it from 10 different, semi-connected perspectives. I loved the idea of showing how on any given ordinary day, teens are going through tough things. It made me think about what it was like to be in high school and have things happen. Have your heart broken, have your parents split up, have your same shitty social life, and have it just be another day. It's like these things happen, and the world does not stop to acknowledge it like you think it should. The world just keeps on going and you have to too. That's what I took from this.

My favorite characters were Nate, Claire, and Lacy. Nate led the book off by breaking his middle finger (something that proved to be a recurring theme in the book). He lived with his dad, who was an asshole. There's really no other way to put it, the guy was an asshole to the highest degree. I felt so bad for Nate. Claire was in a popular clique, but wondered if there wasn't more to life than talking about the same gossip over and over again. She wondered if anyone ever saw the true her... or if she even knew who her true self was. Lacy was a girl who had body issues. She always lived outside of the popularity bubble, until Grace came and encouraged her to tryout for cheerleading. She was needed on the squad to lift up the smaller girls, and Grace also had a slight ulterior motive: she wanted to date Lacy's hot jock, basketball captain brother.

What I loved about those 3 characters (and several others) was that they wanted to find out who they really were. They all believed there was so much more, just didn't know how to go about finding it.

I loved the way the characters were so different, but all connected in multiple little ways. Some of them were connected by knowing the others, being friends with them, being neighbors, siblings, classmates. Other times they were connected by having similar experiences and feelings about those experiences. They were connected by the places they went, and of course, that single crude gesture.

I have a mild love/hate thing going on with the ending. So many of the characters didn't get a clear ending. So many things hanging in the balance. I liked that in a way, but OMG what happens to these people!?!?!!!! Also, I just wanted it to go on and on. I could have read full-length books about several of these characters.

OVERALL: LOVED!!! I'm so happy I stuck it out with this author because this book hit the nail on the head for me. I loved it and could not put it down. I was thinking about these characters and what it all meant every second that I could not read it. I'm still thinking about what it all means. Highly recommend!

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Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews63 followers
March 13, 2015
Each chapter in READ BETWEEN THE LINES follows a different person. Most of the narrators are in an elective lit class at the high school, but some are more tangential - neighbors, friends, siblings. The stories aren't in chronological order, although they mostly take place on the same day. The cast of characters quickly becomes familiar, providing a connection point.

Jo Knowles does a wonderful job of differentiating her large cast of narrators. Some are foul mouthed and some are embarrassed by how far they go to avoid even thinking bad words. Some are angry, some are confused, and most of them are hurting in some ways. I didn't like all of the narrators, but Knowles did a wonderful job of making each of them the star when it was their turn to speak. I did sometimes regret that READ BETWEEN THE LINES never returned to some narrators, because I wanted to know what happens next.

READ BETWEEN THE LINES is a very quick read, as well as one that is easy to pick up and put down as needed due to its nature as a series of vignettes. At the same time, Knowles manages to find impressive depths to her characters during those scenes. Almost all of them are at flashpoints, trying to figure out who they are and where they're going. It doesn't feel unnatural that a large group of teenagers are preoccupied with those questions. It also helps that there's a lot going on besides inner reflection - heart attacks, scams, hit and runs, sexual assault, hoarding, parental abandonment, abuse, sexuality crises, and more are all factors in various stories.

While READ BETWEEN THE LINES feels fairly light, there is quite a bit of heavy content, as the list in the preceding paragraph shows. I think it is appropriate for younger readers, but there's plenty there for an adult to start a conversation with them about after. The variety of narrators means that there's someone for almost every reader to identify with, although there could be more diversity. (There is a gay storyline and a "fat" girl who is clearly no more than ten pounds overweight, but still being shamed for it and struggling with her self image and confidence.)

I enjoyed READ BETWEEN THE LINES. It is clearly written and smoothly told. It is fun to put the pieces of different stories together, especially since all of them are entertaining on their own merits.
Profile Image for Abby Connor.
105 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2015
I have loved all of Jo's books so when I say this one is my favorite of hers yet, you know that it was a perfect book. It was just one of those books that makes you feel like you know how to be a better person after reading it. Jo Knowles is a master of conveying emotion through writing and a master of voice. How she managed to take so many different viewpoints and make them so unique to each and every character is beyond me. It just shows how skilled she is that she was not only able to weave all of these stories together and keep them all straight, but also make them all seem like realistically different people. The writing itself is just incredible. But what I really love about this book is that it makes you (as John Green would say) imagine others complexly. In one chapter you love a character, and the next you're wondering how he could be such an asshole when you know he's really just a sweet sad puppy inside. And then you realize, oh, that's the whole point. Everyone's got their own story if you look close enough, but if you're looking from far enough away, you're only going to see someone in relation to you and your life. That guy who was just a huge jerk to you was a huge jerk to you because he's got a lot going on in his own life that he doesn't know how to handle. All the characters were just perfect in the ways they were flawed. Because they felt real. They were selfish and kind and confused and strong and mean. They were a jumbled mess of contradictions in the best way - the realistic way that all humans are. I loved this book and I can tell it's the kind of book I'm going to want to read again and again and again to absorb every single detail of all the interconnected stories. <3
Profile Image for MΔRI JΔNE.
33 reviews
March 9, 2016
Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles is a solid 5/5.

This book is extraordinary. It challenges the readers mind, and introduces us to the wild, messy (and perhaps provocative) minds of adolescences and young adults.

From a teacher struggling to understand why her peers dislike her, and willing them to read between the lines she holds up, representing her powerful message in the form of three fingers.

To a boy who lives a life of lies. Supposedly happily in love with a stereotypical cheerleader, but really holds dear to his heart that he is indeed confused and has his eyes on his sister's best friend.

From a girl who just wants more out of life than her usual routine at home and at school.

To a graduated boy who perfects the interior and exterior areas of his home, because he cannot perfect the flaws within himself.

These troubled, deeply flawed kids and more are ones that can be easily related to. Jo Knowles touches the minds of those who struggle with their everyday lives. From trying so hard to make their parents approve of them, to trying to accept the fact that the ones they love will never be theirs.

From 14 to early 20s, these kids are portrayed beautifully. Knowles highlights their minds as if she knows what is going on in our wild, messy (and perhaps provocative) minds.

Read Between the Lines folks. Because that kid that sits behind you in third period History class that you never talk to, has a story. And it's just as worth telling as yours is.
Profile Image for Claudia.
2,402 reviews86 followers
April 12, 2015
The cover intrigued me...the classic "read between the lines" flip-off...I was hooked before I even opened the book.

It was NOT what I thought...a wise-ass YAL of an angst-ridden teen. It's a glimpse into ten lives, all on the same day, all associated in some way to the same high school. Many of the narrators are also associated in some way to the others in the book...

I was reminded of REALM OF POSSIBILITY, by David Levethan...also richly complex and connected even in the isolated stories.

Told by bullied freshmen, cheerleaders who are not the stereotype of their group, dissatisfied grads with no future, and a teacher who struggles, this book weaves through one day, and pivotal moments involving the middle finger and its antisocial message. Poor Nate breaks his middle finger and returns to school with it at permanent 'flip off' angle. That's the only joke...

Stories weave in and out...narrators of one story return as minor characters in another. We see important scenes from different points of view. Everyone has important lessons to learn, especially the young teacher who devises a 'I need your attention now' signal for her class...the classic 'Read between the lines" gesture. I laughed and cried at her desperation.

I learned to love these characters, and I want to know more...I want to know what happens tomorrow.

This is a tour de force in storytelling...voices are strong and true. I loved this book.
Profile Image for AudibleBlerd.
104 reviews20 followers
March 28, 2016
I'm so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and read this book. I enjoyed each story that was told and I liked how the author showed each character from the pov of at least one other character.

I even liked that the author switched from 1st person to 3rd person for the last chapter. After all, we've all been students and can truly relate to the struggle of being teenagers, but many of us have not been teachers.

Much respect to teachers and I don't blame you if you ever wanted to tell your students to "read between the lines." I remember 10th grade English.
Profile Image for Danielle Richert.
59 reviews10 followers
April 1, 2015
This book caught me by surprise because of its dive into complex and universal issues. Told in ten short vignettes, loosely connected by shared characters, the book takes you through a typical day in the life of students, former students, and their teachers. Each issue the book touches on, from struggling with body image, grieving an unexplained loss, coming out, to breaking away from expectation, is dealt with compassion and authenticity.
Profile Image for Zoe R.
4 reviews
May 20, 2015
this book had 336 pages in it and it was great! in all the books i read, this one was different. The author writes his chapters in chapters. i would deffienty to two people
Profile Image for Aroog.
420 reviews9 followers
January 4, 2015
Holy shit, guys. Jo Knowles, author of See You at Harry's (which I haven't read but have been urged by many to do so), has absolutely clutched it with this one. The story, the characters, the worldbuilding--it's all killer, but (because you know I always have a 'but') it is so blindingly white and plays into what TV Tropes accurately calls Gayngst. Alas, no one's perfect.

Writing Style

Jo Knowles! Queen of my heart! Your prose is on fleek, and it makes my heart sing. You are truly a master of the five-part chapter that illustrates the life of a host of small town people. As each chapter goes on to blend seamlessly with the next, overlapping in the manner of Sarah Dessen's books, where all the characters inhabit the same town and exist on the periphery of others, my heart, rendered two sizes too small from all of the mediocre YA in the world, bounces back to its original state. For this, I thank you.


This book doesn't have a plot so much as a bunch of plots that weave together. It's refreshing to see such an elaborate plot executed so well, and no, I'm not crying, there's just joy in my eyes.


Since this book had a panel of characters, I'm not going to go character-by-character like I usually do. Instead, I'll rank them from favorite to least favorite:

Miss Lindsay

Now, I know what you're thinking: Dewey as your number one, Aroog? Really? He is such an asshole! He objectifies women! The aforementioned is very, very true, but Dewey's chapter was so well-written. I get to see this asshole describe all of the events that made him the way he is, and how living with his father has skewed his perception of women, and how he is so vulnerable, because his entire life rests on his father's promise of a job for him when he hits twenty-one. Dewey was so fleshed out that I immediately marked him as my favorite. Is he a good guy? God, no. Is he a good character? For sure. The way Stephen's chapter complements his is really nice, too, because we see Dewey from an outsider's perspective, where he shows kindness to Stephen that he doesn't need to. Read this book for Stephen and Dewey's chapters, honestly. They're the best.

Grace and Dylan were great characters, too, because they challenged other people's perceptions of them. Grace was seen as Little Miss Perfect and ridiculed by her parents for trying to be a living Barbie? The words hurt her, but she kept doin' her. Dylan, too, was amazing, because we see an asshole teenage boy taking part in a scam to get money for beer or weed, and yet he cares about so much more than that. He loves people in spite of the things they do. His mom is a pack rat, but she lets her be. Sammy is untouchable; she is higher on the social ladder than him, but they share a deep bond of brother/sisterhood. He shows small acts of kindness that go against Dewey's idea of him being a typical, lazy teenage boy. It is enough to warm my cold, cold heart, honestly.

Lacy, Miss Lindsay, and Jack had okay chapters. There was more to them than met the eye, but their chapters paled in comparison to the others'. However, two chapters that annoyed me were Nate's and Keith's. Nate's is the first chapter and it sets the tone for the entire book, and it is so painfully blah. There is no hook to draw me in with Nate's chapter (I read on only after he went into his nurse fetish in detail; that probably says something about my character...), and it was my least favorite throughout the entire book, until we got to Keith's. Keith! You boring boy! I don't understand your ritual of getting flipped off by a grunge beauty queen and her backup dancers, my man! Your entire chapter was like an uncomfortable acid trip. To be terribly blunt, that chapter is confusing and unnecessary, and needs to be rewritten or removed. It marrs the rest of the book. Nate's chapter also needs some more depth. Make me feel something for this kid. Make him interesting. He is the typical, cliche, "boy who got bullied" trope. It lowers my morale to read further, because it reads like a story about bullying, and adults usually butcher those (that is a rant for another time).


Wow, wow, wow. This is an excellent example of fleshed-out settings in contemporary YA. I can picture Little Cindy's and Irving High, and it is refreshing to know where everything is at. As for reasonability, everything was researched out and made sense (except for Keith and that balcony shit. I'm still convinced that was a bad trip).

The Unforgivables


Mogai individuals just can't seem to catch a break in YA. We die, we try to kill ourselves, we come out with lots of angst and are bullied until one of the former situations occur, or we just end up with a relationship in shambles because being gay is an angsty, nasty business. If Stephen didn't have to deal with a broken relationship and a father who had a heart attack at the same time, I might've gone easy on this book, but lord! Would it be impossible to set Stephen and Ben back up? Or at least hint at it, the way Lacy's text hinted at Stephen and Lacy becoming friends again? I'm not asking for a miracle, people.

Monochrome Casting
If, by now, in 2015, you don't understand why it is harmful to have all-white casts of characters in YA, or throwing in a token character of color (which Knowles didn't even bother with), I am not going to bother with you. This last part is intended for all authors of YA: POC exist. It doesn't matter if you're living in Armpit, West Virginia or some other racist state in the south. There are POC there. At the very least, a town will have one or two families of color, and you're writing FICTION, for God's sakes! Make it up! Color in this mayonnaise world! Give kids of color someone to relate to! Please, stop with the all-white or token-character bullshit. This is your world, you're the creator, and if you aren't comfortable with writing a character out and including a detail that marks them as POC, that says something about you. POC characters aren't hard to write. They're like white characters, but with darker skin.


Loved this book, but not how white it was. Also, gayngst really doesn't appeal to actual mogai individuals.

Profile Image for John Gilbert.
800 reviews77 followers
June 9, 2020
Wow, so much in this book.

It was five stars right up to the last chapter of ten, when Jo seemed to lose all her momentum and mystery, going from related student tales of trauma in a high school where everyone is intertwined. Then the final chapter is virtually unrelated with a lone teacher's experience of not particularly liking teaching or her students. It falls apart at the finish unfortunately.

Prior to that are enthralling tales of trauma, where somehow everyone either gives or gets the finger, mostly for good reason. Some of the stories are fraught, a gay captain of the basketball team dating the head cheerleader when it all falls apart (best scenario with Grace his girlfriend, chapter 9), 'fat' cheerleader and sister of the gay captain and former best friend to his lover, all with hopes and failings. Wonderful mix that unfortunately did not cross the line to make this an extraordinary book.

Well worth the journey, even if disappointing in the end.
Profile Image for Thea Boyne.
118 reviews
August 31, 2017
This book was so well-written! I thought the way all the character's stories interwove and interlocked was just incredible, and I couldn't put it down. I finished the book wanting to know more about every character, and I wish we'd been able to see each character's perspective more than just once--some of the storylines felt unfinished, but perhaps that comes with the territory when a book is set over the course of just one day. I thought the way this book explored the use of the middle finger was a really interesting and cool concept, and I think the idea of "read between the lines" is funny and something I might actually use. I like how that "read between the lines" concept has a deeper meaning in the book too, in that each character's life was not actually the way it seemed, and you would have to look under the surface to see that.
42 reviews
April 15, 2018
4.75 stars. I really liked this book! Each perspective has 5 mini chapters in it. Although the chapters never fully explain everything, each new perspective allows you to build on previous knowledge. Each new perspective involves a person that has been mentioned in previous chapters and allows you to see a new view on the current happenings of each story. If the author chose, this entire book could have been written from any one of the perspectives. The only thing I didn't like about the book was how there didn't really seem to be an ending... but I guess that was the purpose? Would definitely recommend... Really good read!
March 1, 2022
Fantastic read! Take a dive into the lives of many different characters. This book is about looking deeper into people, and trying to see the world from another’s perspective. The image you see on the outside may not be the true person. Definitely worth reading!
Profile Image for Kirsten Feldman.
Author 3 books75 followers
September 15, 2017
It's more of a snapshot than a story that progresses, but the characters are wrenchingly lovely and real.
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