Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz – Review

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Publisher’s Website

Rating: 4/5 – definitely recommended, though there are some writing issues I have reservations about which I’ll explain

Summary:

Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud, and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all, and the very real threat of deportation. But Jasmine won’t give up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

Before you read the rest of this review, I’m going to point you VERY FIRMLY towards the reviews of this book by Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer and Sue from Hollywood News Source. Ownvoices stories and reviews are incredibly important. I especially encourage anyone who’s unfamiliar with the experiences/identities raised in this book to read their thoughtful reflections and broaden your understanding.

Done? Or saved them? Here are my thoughts.

Strengths

I loved and was incredibly grateful for the specific areas of diverse representation that this book had:

  • Asian character with a migrant background! I rarely turn down such YA books, which I (will always) feel a strong need for, and there were definitely parts of the experiences here which I identified with. It was also refreshing that Jasmine was a 1.5 generation immigrant (migrated to America as a child), because this is also rarely represented. I liked how this was reflected in her role balancing between her parents, and her younger brothers, as well as how strongly she identified with both her Filipino heritage and being American.
  • I loved reading about Filipino culture and seeing their interactions. I’ve been wanting to read about a Filipino character for a very long time – so it was great to finally find it in this ownvoices book. Hopefully an Australian YA one will also appear later down the line!
  • What stood out to me most was how insightful the book was regarding the experiences of undocumented immigrants (in America). This specific experience explored the classic immigrant concerns of identity and belonging from a different angle. It’s not about Jasmine questioning who she is (as I said above, she knows and feels firmly that she’s Filipino-American); instead, she’s dealing with the fact that she’s not legally American, that her internal identity isn’t reflected on paper:

It feels like there’s no ground beneath me, like everything I’ve ever done has been a lie. Like Los Angeles has never really been my home. I’m breaking apart, shattering. Who am I? Where do I belong?

I’m not American. I’m not a legal resident. I don’t even have a green card.

I’m nothing. Nobody.

Illegal.

As a result, Jasmine and her family grappled with serious issues of deportation and staying resilient whilst undocumented, which captivated my interest. I’ve personally got a huge interest in and am aiming to go into refugee and family migration law (spoiler in rot13)Yvxr Wnfzvar qrpvqrf(/spoiler), so in spite of differences with the US, loved learning more about this aspect, a process which shaped my increased empathy with people in this position. It’s always good to see contemporary YA being honest about political issues.

Weaknesses

The main weakness in this book was Jasmine’s characterisation, which was poor. She lacked strong traits, vulnerabilities, or flaws, and was limited to being defined by the way outsiders see her, i.e. smart, over-achieving, caring a lot about school, and working hard to fulfil the dreams of her migrant parents. I’m not criticising her on the basis of these traits – they’re real, and I can actually relate to every one of them – but there needs to be deeper characterisation in order for her to feel real. What makes her, and her responses, different from any other person in her position? I couldn’t see anything.

  • I want to add, as a sidenote, that I do feel for the author here and understand how this may have occurred. For writers of ownvoices stories in unique intersections (like Filipino-American undocumented immigrants), the mere existence of a character like you in fiction is radical. This can exacerbate the already-existing pressure on minorities to represent the rest of their ethnicity, and can lead to an unbalanced focus on these superficial descriptors, based on how outsiders see you, rather than the internal workings of the character.
  • Which brings us full circle as to why we need more diverse books and authors

Other weaknesses:

  • I had no interest in the cheerleading storyline and skimmed most of it
  • Whilst I found Royce’s family dynamics compelling (and they were interwoven with the storyline), I didn’t like him much as a love interest, and also skimmed his interactions with Jasmine a fair bit
  • This book is too long for a contemporary YA – there were many scenes which could have been cut and tightened

Overall, however, these issues don’t change how important I feel this book is. Recommended for the insightful diverse rep in this book and the complex issues it grappled with.

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