Title: Something in Between
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Source: Provided by publisher
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It feels like there’s no ground beneath me, like everything I’ve ever done has been a lie. Like I’m breaking apart, shattering. Who am I? Where do I belong?
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.
For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she’s trying to make sense of her new world, it’s turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she’s not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.
Hands down, Something in Between is the best YA contemporary book of the year.
If you’re only familiar with Melissa de la Cruz’s fantasy and paranormal books, I’m going to put a huge disclaimer: this is drastically different than her previous works. It is her best yet. She came back to her original roots, which is realistic fiction ala chick lit where the stakes are higher.
Something in Between follows the story of Jasmine de los Santos, a smart high school student who’s eligible to apply to prestigious universities. After receiving an invitation to meet the President of the United States, she discovers her family is undocumented Filipino immigrants. This shattered her chance for a scholarship, and imposes a threat of deportation. There, she meets Royce Blakely, the alluring son of a congressman who’s opposed with Immigration Reform.
I initially thought the story would only explore the gritty reality of being an immigrant, but de la Cruz added a lot of elements that made the story exceptionally exciting and alluring. She tackled the somber state–stereotypes, oppression immigrants experience on a daily basis. These are deeply rooted in the plot. It examines the privilege, and what is it like to be a minority in the US.
There’s nuances, non-Immigrant, non-Asian, or non-Filipino wouldn’t get. It was subtly instilled in the plot. Per example, the tension and discrimination between different kinds of immigrants. There are first generation immigrants, second or more, and there’s fob which means “fresh off the boat.” It is usually used as an insult to alienate other “immigrants” who are deemed as less classy.
Something in Between also balanced the realism by setting a precise, fun storytelling tone. There is a tight knit circle of family and friends. The story weaved the rich family oriented culture of Filipino. It’s refreshing to read something akin to my own background.
The love interest, Royce Blakely isn’t your standard YA boyfriend. He’s a dyslexic, biracial Mexican-American boy. His characterization instantly grabbed me. I love it when I get to read male characters who have vulnerabilities within them. He’s quite a loner, who puts in a lot of time studying with his tutors, and proves he is worth more than his family’s reputation.
The romance is everything
After Jasmine met Royce, the charming, wealthy son, the attraction is already flying up in the sky. It got me hooked from the very first page. It is the teenage-fumbling romance between two multicultural high schoolers. It’s a little bit of a whirlwind insta-love romance, but I like how the story gradually builds up their relationship, step by step. There is the understandable insecurity and hesitation, because they come from different backgrounds, because some relationships take some time to get there. Secondly, there’s also the mutual love and respect for each other. At the end of the day, they provided familiarity and comfort to each other. That’s the key point of this pairing. It’s about abolishing the platitude that two people who come from opposite upbringings can’t be together. They are teens of color; they are not supposed to have their life figured out at the age of eighteen..
Extra selling point: They did the cupping face trope, the i’m-cold-im-going-to-give-you-my-coat trope. I was swooning hard.
Something in Between tackles racial identity.
I wasn’t considered an American, I lost sight of who I was. I thought a piece of paper defined me, that I was a different person, lesser. But through ought this entire year, I’ve found out that who I was never changed. I let what the law said about me-that I did, as a human being, was illegal, that I didn’t belong in the place I’d always known as my own home-change my own perception of who I am.
One of the essential themes of the story is how the children of immigrants are stuck between different cultures, how they should identify themselves. Something in Between imparted a great message to its readers, especially to those who are experiencing the same struggles as Jasmine did. In addition, the narrative explores the solidarity between different communities and our cultural dissonance.
What jarred me about the story was Maria, and Jasmine’s uncomfortable interaction with her. Maria is the Filipino maid of Royce’s family. She’s not a stereotypical portrayal of Filipino. There is a lot of us who provide domestic service. Our community celebrates our labor. We are proud of it. It only hurts us when non-Filipino devalues the service we provide. When they can only remember Filipino nannies exist when they want to prove a point how we are below the food chain. This belief continues to dehumanize us. Where are these people when we celebrate Filipino excellency? Something in Between encapsulate the experience of young Filipino teens – even adults feel this alienation. Jasmine’s discomfort towards Maria has everything to do with how society conditioned us to feel ashamed when we shouldn’t.
The wide financial privilege gap between Royce and Jasmine played a huge factor in the story. It is a common teleserye trope called langit-lupa. Most YA books that I’ve read never contemplate the rich-poor dynamic. It’s something you can’t easily dismiss, especially if you don’t have the exact footing as the people you surround yourself with. Alienation and insecurity will take hold of the place. And Jasmine’s response made me bawl, because I was there and I still find myself coming back to that place, sometimes. Our diaspora, our shame, our proud.
“I know I’m always telling you to stop putting yourself down,”I tell him.
“But I was guilty of the same thing. I put myself down. I convinced myself everyone else was the one doing it, that it was your family that was judging me, that you were judging me, but I was the one who found me and my family lacking. I was the one who was embarrassed to be who I was, embarrassed about where I came from….I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed, if you know what I mean. I hated that I felt that way about myself. I work so hard to hold my head up, to be proud of my culture, my background, my history. I would never change my skin color, the shape of my eyes, or the color of my hair, but inside, I was worse than anyone out there who calls me a chink, or a FOB.”
It is a damn spot on book, but I want everyone to see Jasmine and her family’s story shouldn’t be regaled as the representation of all for Filipino immigrants. Jasmine said so herself, she’s one of the many. Despite her situation, her connection made it possible for her to achieve her dreams. When I finished reading it, I realized the moral story isn’t to resolve the reformation of immigration, but to give hope to one girl’s dream. Something in Between is a mirror and reflection for every teenager that needs it.
Things that I loved:
- Female friendship portrayal – I love that Melissa embedded teenage issues and didn’t brush it under the rug. You could see the girls making up for their mistake.
- Being an immigrant, specifically undocumented didn’t make Jasmine a pariah. Instead she received an overwhelming support from her peers. This is how you write diversity.
- The republicans are portrayed “too good” for my liking. They generally dismissed and alienate marginalized groups, it doesn’t set down well with me.
- I’m quite disappointed with some of the ableist language being passed as a pun.
- There are a handful of scenes where Jasmine’s family members invalidate Royce’s biracial background. The story is supposed to be inclusive, let’s thrive for that.
Something in Between would appeal to a chock full of readers. I simply love that this book combines everything I love in contemporary YA, there’s romance, strong political ambiance, racial inclusion, tight knit family and friendship. I couldn’t ask anything better. Highly recommended to contemporary fans that dig Morgan Matson and Jenny Han.
Review also posted at Goodreads.
About the Author
Sue discovered the magical world filled with words at a young age. They have been her constant companion ever since. In addition to being a full time bookworm, and a dessert enthusiastic, she also runs the first fansite for Vampire Academy’s Lucy Fry called Lucy Fry Source. When she’s not tucked between the pages of her books, you can find her at her personal blog. You can also follow Sue on instagram and goodreads.