Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz isn’t your average fluffy feel good contemporary YA novel. This heartfelt glimpse of a family of Filipino immigrants tackles weighty themes like identity, interracial relationships, and the politically hot topic of illegal immigration. Given the current events and political climate of the United States since last November, this is in my opinion a very important read. Our main character is Jasmine De Los Santos. She has worked hard her entire life in order to make the sacrifices her parents made to come to the United States worthwhile. She is at the top of her class, the captain of the cheer-leading squad, and she just won a prestigious National Scholar award. Her future appears to be open with possibilities until her parents reveal that the family’s visas have expired and they have been living in the U.S. illegally. Jasmine’s dreams of going to college now in jeopardy and her family on the verge of being deported throw her life in a complete tail spin. In the middle of all this mess, Jasmine meets a boy named Royce. Royce is the son of a high-ranking congressman, whose political agenda stands on an anti-illegal immigration forum. Will Royce still be interested in her once he finds out about Jasmine’s illegal status? Will Jasmine be able to salvage her future and keep her family from being deported? Jasmine doesn’t have the answers to these questions, but she is determined to fight for the American Dream that her parents wanted for the family when they immigrated to the U.S.
“I don’t even know who I am anymore. I really don’t. I feel like a ghost in my own country. No matter what I do, I feel like I’m fading, like I’m becoming a shadow.”
Jasmine feels like her identity is being completely erased when she finds out that she is in the United States illegally. Her life feels like a lie and everything she has worked so hard for seems out of reach. She has a moment of rebellion when faced with her new reality, which is understandable given how her world is crumbling. She has always identified as an American and struggles with how to define herself now that she undocumented. I liked Jasmine’s tenacity in not giving in when faced with the new obstacles in her path. She does have a moment of insecurity and a “what’s the point” attitude, but it is fairly brief and understandable given the change in her circumstances. Along with her new identity struggle, Jasmine is also facing everyday teenage problems relating to family, friends, and her love life. Which is actually the point of this story.
“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 throughout 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.”
Through Jasmine’s narrative, de la Cruz is giving a face to undocumented immigrants. Not the only face by any means, but one of many for her readers to connect with. In today’s political climate, undocumented immigrants are dehumanized and stereotyped in an effort to make tossing them aside seem less immoral. By telling this story, de la Cruz is challenging those stereotypes and stating that this is not a faceless issue. These are people with hopes, dreams, stories, and hey here is one of those stories. Listen, learn, see things from another person’s perspective. One can hope after reading this book people will do so.
Enough about the themes though, let’s move on to the relationship in this book. I’ve seen quite a few reviews that complain that this was insta-love. I can see where they would think that, but I think it was more of a crush, turned friendship that eventually becomes more. I don’t really think the love story aspect of the plot was really necessary, but I see why it is there. One, it is a way to personalize the issue of illegal immigration for Royce and his father, so they can have a face to relate the topic too. A plot device, if you will, to attempt to tie the characters together. Whether or not it works, I’m not going to say. You will need to read the book. Second, the relationship in this book between Jasmine and Royce brings to light the difference in the classes, and interracial relationships. Now the class difference thing, you see quite often in romance novels. However, it is rare to see an interracial relationship though, which I don’t get. I liked that De la Cruz made it feel natural and not this huge deal. Just a simple “hey you fall for whoever you fall for” and “love is love” kind of casual representation of a interracial relationship.
It would be fairly easy to just say this is a love story or coming-of-age story or just another contemporary YA novel. I urge you to look deeper into this because it is about so much more. Jasmine’s story is not the story of all immigrants (illegal or otherwise) but it is one of many stories that if people took the time to listen to would in my opinion make the world a bit better for all. Something In Between will definitely appeal to many readers, especially to those of you that are looking for #ownvoices diverse books. I would also recommend this to anyone that enjoys contemporary YA, books with good family dynamics, supportive female friendships, and yes it is a love story.