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Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith

October 6, 2007

cover of Betwixt by Tara Bray SmithThis is when I really wish I was in a book group, because I’m not sure how to discuss Betwixt without spoilers. It’s been almost three months since I read it and I’m not any closer to figuring it out. But the book just came out this past week and I, rather selfishly, want to encourage people to read it so I can talk about it with others, because it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year and definitely worth reading.

I took the ARC of Betwixt on the plane with me on my flight home from Washington, DC. I read the first chapter, decided I’d rather sleep instead, and didn’t pick it up for another two weeks or so. Then, when I was showing a teen movie, I brought it with me to read while the movie played. This time, I just kept turning the pages. Before I knew it, I was over a hundred pages in and totally hooked.

Anyway, here’s what the book is about (from the jacket, because it does an excellent job of setting it up without spoilers):

For three teenagers, dark mystery has always lurked at the corner of the eyes and the edge of sleep.

Beautiful Morgan D’Amici wakes in her trailerpark home with dirt and blood under her fingernails. Paintings come alive under Ondine Mason’s violet-eyed gaze. Haunted runaway Nix Saint-Michael sees halos of light around people about to die. At a secret summer rave, the three teenagers learn of their true, changeling nature and their uncertain, intertwined destinies. Riveting, unflinching, beautiful, Betwixt shows a magic as complex and challenging as any ordinary truth.

Without getting into the plot, which is layered, or the three main characters, who are imperfect and complicated and so very human in their actions and fears despite their “changeling nature,” what really kept me reading was Tara Bray Smith’s writing. Unforced is the best way I can describe it, though observant would also be a good word. It is somehow simultaneously straightforward and luminous, distant yet immediate. From pages 170-171 of the ARC:

…Ondine wondered what had happened to the girl who just a few weeks ago had to turn off her phone it rang so often. She had always been the popular girl, the one who walked into a roomful of strangers and walked out with a new posse of friends. Now when the phone rang—if it did at all—she answered it only if it was Ralph or Trish, and the idea of calling someone to grab a cup of coffee or go shopping or catch a movie didn’t even occur to her. The girl who did those kinds of things was someone else named Ondine, not her. This Ondine stayed close to home, cleaning, cooking—though she had never made anything more complicated than ramen noodles before—spending long hours maintaining Trish’s flower beds. Gardening was Trish’s passion, but not something Ondine had ever shown any real interest in. There were magazines and manuals everywhere, but she ignored them, just as she eschewed tools. She wandered into the garden and sank to her knees and worked the earth with her fingers, pinching off a leaf here, a twig there; she whispered to a cupped leaf, “Grow.” Under Ondine’s watch the Mason’s yard exploded. It was almost eerie how every plant seemed to bloom at the same time. How the flowers didn’t fade, or rust, or even close when the sun went down. Ondine knew, because she had looked. She had gone to the window late one night when Nix still wasn’t back from the store, and seen an army of roses and peonies and irises and asters all staring up at her window. When a breeze stirred them, it was as if they were bowing. Ondine felt like Evita of the flora. She would have laughed, if she hadn’t been so creeped out.

In many ways, Betwixt both is and is about liminal stages. It blurs adult and Young Adult fiction, not belonging wholly to one, but somewhere in between. In tone, I was at times reminded of adult literature (The Secret History comes to mind for some reason, despite the difference in narrators), yet the story is ultimately about three teens searching for their identity and their place in the world, without any sense of temporal distance in the narration. It is this, I think, that Cindy Eagan (Editorial Director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) means when she writes, “Enchanting, intoxicating, sensual, and cool, Betwixt will speak to today’s older young adult audience in a way that I believe will be truly groundbreaking.”

Visit the Betwixt site.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2007 1:39 pm

    I read this months ago, and so did one of my customers. I actually lent her the book before I read it, and we discussed it at length. In short, I wanted more out of it. Much more. This book will appeal to Holly Black fans, but I think Black does it better.

  2. November 5, 2007 2:48 pm

    This was something I had been meaning to read for a while, and when I read your post, it prompted me to finally read it. I can see what you mean about wanting someone to discuss it with. I was left with A LOT of questions. Perhaps this is to portray the questions that the characters likely have and/or to give us incentive to read the next book?

    Did I miss it, or did they explain how Morgan was created and came to be a changling but K.A. didn’t? I wasn’t totally clear on the process of the exidis, nor on what Ondine is and how her powers work. Bleek’s whole plan wasn’t entirely clear to me either. All I know was that he had to impregnate Neve and by being a cutter he would prevent their exidis and damn them to eternal consious torture. And where do the creatures come into it? Are only Moth and Morgan able to become animal-like? Is that not part of the usual process? And I was never totally clear on that boy who died at the concert and why.

    I did like how the names had such great meanings and Smith wasn’t too blatant about explaining them.

  3. November 6, 2007 12:33 pm

    Uh… Must re-read book!

    I don’t think I can answer any of your questions, Sheryl. If I ever knew (part of) the answers to them, they’ve slipped my mind in the past two and a half months.😦

  4. Bri permalink
    December 3, 2007 1:28 pm

    Funny how Morgan is alot like Morgan Le Fay. It is said her brother is King Arthur. K.A? It really made me think.

  5. jellybean permalink
    July 1, 2008 8:27 am

    Whew! Thank goodness I’m not the only one who was confused! I thought I was just not getting something, I feel better knowing other people were confused, too!

  6. Khwezi, 14 permalink
    September 16, 2008 12:47 am

    i love Nix and i haven’t finfshed the book but… i’m lovng it..

  7. Kelsey permalink
    February 14, 2009 4:13 pm

    I love Betixt and to answer some of your questions sheryl Ondine is a scia. She has the powers that Viv does. Ondine is also half human half changeling and that is what Bleek was trying to do. He was trying to make another half human half changeling because Ondine is the only one. THe boy at the concert died because he had the potential and maybe even smelled like he was becoming a cutter! (Cutters smell bad) And Viv did not want anyone to go through the exidis who had a possibility of becoming a cutter. The exidis is were the changeling fay will leave there human bodys and go to Novala. I am pretty sure that other changelings can morph into animals too. But maybe Ondine and Nix can’t because they are not normal changelings. Nix is a ringer and Ondine is a scia. But you never know. Maybe this is one of the things we will find out in the sequal. And about Morgan and K.A. Just because they are related does not mean that K.A. has to be a changeling too. His sister is not actually a changeling. That is how it sounds but his sister just has a Changeling living in her body. As soon as Morgan goes through her exidis K.A.’s sister will be human and no one will ever know the diffrence. I could be wrong about this information but this is the stuff i picked up from reading the book. When i find a book that i like i tend to pay really close attention to it and pick up on things other people don’t i hang on every word as if it held the secrets on how to cure a disease. I really do love Betwixt and i hope many more people read it and love it as much as i do. I hope i helped answer some of your questions and i hope i will find someone who loves the book as much as me. I love so much about this book. The adventure. The constant flow of questions that make you never want to put the book down…that is what makes you keep reading in the next chapter to get the answers. But most of all i love the characters. I love Nix, Ondine, Moth, even Morgan and Bleek. They are evil but they are what make the book good. With out them the book would not be a story it would be a book written by an author with an over active imagination for making up other worlds but has a problem with not making up characters. but Betwixt is not like that. The characters are so real. I can relate to them. I don’t know how or why i can but i do. It is one of those questions that you constantly ask yourself. Anyway the characters of this book are really good…almost life like. I began to like some of them alot. I love Nix. i don’t know why but i do. I loved his relationship with Ondine and was sad when he said he was in love with Neve. I also love Moth. At first you take him to be the strange guy you try to avoid. BUt after you find out he is a really nice person who just wants to help. I almost screamed with joy at the end of betwixt when moth started to realise he really did like ondine. He even convinced viv to let him stay, hold out on his exidis so he could wait for ondine. It was soo cute. I loved it so much. when i started this book i had no idea about anything that was going on i had never heard of fay or changelings but after now that i am done i feel like i am an expert and tell you anything you need to know. Now i see the word changeling and the word fay everywhere. In other books. It is like the word pops out to me. Anyway if i don’t stop now i wil just keep going on this stuff and i will most likely not stop. Again i hope you all like Betwixt i know i did

  8. April 6, 2009 4:03 pm

    I loved this book and it was really good… even though I’m a little younger I got the plot and the book made total sense to me so…sorry if you didn’t get it ’cause it is so much better then it seems like!

  9. Corinne permalink
    June 30, 2010 9:10 am

    So i thoroughly enjoyed the book but at the same time am completely lost.. maybe it’s my tendency to rush through books because i’m in such a hurry to find out what happens! but it just seems like there were too many ideas going on at once and i never quite saw them come together coherenty. i know that the book was supposed to make you feel like you witnessing it from all angles but no one had all the answers, and thusly you didn’t get them either its just that the build up was so detailed and written so well which i loved and then all of the sudden the real action starts and its just like bam! The characters realize their powers but we’re still in the dark.. hopefully the sequel will hold more answers! like how did nix even end up on the boat??

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