After reading and really liking Siobhan Vivian’s Not That Kind of Girl, I went into her 2009 title, Same Difference, with high expectations. And while it wasn’t as knock-out as Not That Kind of Girl, I have to say that I am extremely impressed with Vivian’s ability to craft three-dimensional, realistic main characters.
Emily’s plans for the summer always revolved around hanging out with her best friend Meg in their suburban town of Cherry Grove. They’d spend their time talking about boys, doing their hair and makeup, laying by the pool, and other lazy activities that best friends forever do. But this year, Emily’s taking a bit of a different route. Thanks to an art teacher who thinks she has extreme potential, she’s enrolling in a summer program at an arts college in downtown Philadelphia where she’ll learn how to draw and make art in ways she never will in her home town.
This will be a summer of extreme change: she’ll no longer be a big fish in a small pond. Emily’s going into the biggest pond of her life, by herself, and she’ll be challenged by another student in her program, Fiona. Fiona’s an Artist and lives her life that way. At least, that’s what Emily believes as she watches Fiona gain the attention and admiration of other students in the program. When Fiona takes a shine to Emily, though, Emily will begin to turn her back on everything she is and has been. Can she fit in with the cool, artsy crowd or will she always be Emily from Cherry Grove?
What stood out most to me in this novel was Emily. She is a fantastic character because she is one of the most real teen characters I’ve read in a while. She’s secure in who she is and at the same is completely insecure in herself. Taking her out of her comfort zone makes her rethink everything she knows about herself, and put in a world of talented artists, she suddenly feels like she has no confidence and no skill. Emily is every teen girl I’ve known — she struggles with figuring out who she is and who she wants to be. She’s debating between being best friends with someone with whom she’s comfortable and befriending someone wildly different from her who demands she see something different inside herself. There’s a clash within her, and the book’s thrust comes from Emily’s internal struggles and their external manifestation. It’s done incredibly well.
I found Meg and Fiona to both be dynamic characters in their own right. Meg’s a laid back but reliable friend who’s life has changed a little since getting a boyfriend. Fortunately, the boyfriend doesn’t make Meg forget about her best friend, and in fact, she goes out of her way to include Emily in everything she does. Fiona is the exact opposite of Meg: she’s exclusive, and she herself is completely insecure in who she is. Fiona’s made up a lot of the stories she’s told Emily, so a lot of what we “know” about her is through the biased perspective of Emily.
The pacing in this book is spot on, as it never feels like it drags nor rushes. It it set over the course of June through the beginning of September, and the experiences that Emily has and the realizations she comes to are realistic in the time frame. Emily’s a reliable, though understandably biased, narrator. Were the story not told from her point of view, the pacing wouldn’t have worked as well.
What I liked most about this book is that there is a lesson to be picked up, but it never feels like the kind of book written to prove a lesson. Instead, this is the kind of book that so many readers will identify with, and many will find themselves seeing that how Emily acts can help them, too. In addition to the theme of identity and finding oneself, we’ll see some romance and the value of discovering passion in one’s talents. Emily was a great character to read and compare against Natalie in Not That Kind of Girl. I think it’d be safe to say that I don’t think Emily would have gotten along particularly well with Natalie.
Pass this book on to fans of Vivian’s other titles, as well as fans of strong contemporary fiction. Well-drawn characters will work for fans of Sarah Dessen, as well.