Book Review: Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Goodreads Description: 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.
My Review: I was sent a copy of Something in Between by MB Communications in exchange for an honest review.
Something in Between is the incredibly delightful story of Jasmine and her family on their journey to become American citizens. For most of her life, Jasmine de los Santos believed she was an American citizen. But when she receives a prestigious scholarship straight from the federal government, her parents are forced to admit that no one in their family has green cards, and so she cannot accept the scholarship. Worse yet, she may not even be able to go to college at all, since they cannot apply for financial aid. Not to mention that if they are discovered, the entire family could be deported at any time.
First of all, I absolutely adored this story. After reading so many books with dark themes and tones, this was a breath of fresh air. Jasmine de los Santos is such a great character. She is so positive and driven, sometimes to the point of being competitive, and filled with so much love for her family. If I ever met her in real life, I know I'd probably roll my eyes at the way she gets so worked up about things or is so over-focused on school and the need to succeed. But those parts of her personality added to her character and made her perfect for the story. It was refreshing to see such a go-getter character like Jasmine in young adult. I can't remember the last time I found a character with such an unbreakable drive. Of course, Jasmine wasn't the only character that delighted me. From Royce, to Jasmine's parents, to her friends Kayla and Lo, all were wonderfully balanced. I especially found myself impressed with Jasmine's parents. In contemporary, it's very common for writers to skim over the parents' personality and thus make them background robots. As this novel is very family-focused, it was essential to have the rest of her family as vivid as Jasmine herself, which the author pulled off perfectly.
Overall, this novel is very much a romance. From the first few chapters we get a glimpse of Royce Blakely, the handsome congressman's son who keeps popping up in Jasmine's life. Jasmine, however, has always been very focused on school, and has never kissed a boy much less had a boyfriend. Still, when she begins shyly texting Royce and they strike up an awkward friendship, she can't deny how attracted she is to him. I really loved Royce, and felt he was nicely developed. A lot of time romance can gloss over the love interest, so it was nice to see him be as human as Jasmine was. As well, the relationship is not all kissing and holding hands. I loved all the ups and downs that these two have together-- from breaking up and getting back together, to fighting about family issues, and so on. It felt so real because the romance wasn't just the fairy tale lead up to how these two got together. The book showed how their relationship evolved and grew, which was really awesome to see. The only issue I took with the book--- and it's another thing I find common in romance-- is that the guy will do back flips, pull down the moon, run a mile and then go further, all to impress the girl. And the girl, often, does little to nothing in return. No huge romantic gestures or efforts made. Royce states in the book that Jasmine gives him the courage to be himself and follow his dreams, but it would have been nice to see Jasmine put a bit more effort into the relationship to make it seem more balanced.
The writing in this book is smooth and even, and with no swearing or any mature content (Jasmine and Royce don't make it past heavy kissing), I could see this very much appealing to younger audiences of young adult. Aside from the looming threat of deportation, there isn't a whole lot of tension. A lot of action takes place between every page but unless you're engaged in the characters and their day to day life, it can start to drag. That said, there is a lot of meat to the story, so those that fall in love with the characters will be delighted at all the adventures they get to enjoy.
The heart of this story comes down to Jasmine's story of immigration. It is an incredibly empathetic story and really allows readers who may be so far removed from situations like this to understand what's it's like to be an immigrant in America. I really believe this book will do a lot of good in helping young people build empathy for those in this kind of situation. Not only was the glimpse into Filipino culture delightful and enlightening, but the points the book raises on what it means to be American are especially pertinent in this day and age. I'd strongly encourage librarians to sneak this book into the hands of those looking for romance, as they will get all that and so much more.
The only issue that I had with the book comes down to how it all ends up resolved. No spoilers, but I found that the solution felt a little too simple, and like it was an option right from the beginning. There was a lot of work the characters put into achieving that end, but the way it was actually achieved-- with a single phone call-- made all that effort feel pointless. It made it feel like the book could have been half its size, if that was all it took to resolve the conflict.
TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A culturally delightful story that builds empathy for immigrant struggles.