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.
Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Published: September 2016 by Harlequin Teen
My contemporary YA reading pile isn’t as high as my fantasy pile but it’s incredibly rare to find a YA book with a Filipina protagonist in the Western publishing market, so my teen self would have appreciated this book more than I do now. Jasmine’s family are my favourite part of this book because their interactions reminded me a lot of my extended family gatherings.
Like Jasmine, my own grasp of Tagalog is not the best. I also felt connected to how she was the mediator between her parents and her brothers who have assimilated more into American culture. Jasmine notes that for many children of Filipinx immigrants, their bond with their parent’s country can be shaped by how often they can visit. Not everyone can afford the privilege to regularly visit their parent’s home country and I’m glad that this aspect is acknowledged here.
This book is a timely read for many reasons. I’ve seen some reviewers from outside of Filipinx-American culture express ignorance around the green card system and frustration over not understanding why Jasmine’s parents would hide their undocumented status from her. I am not American but I do have Filipinx parents, so I understood that Jasmine’s parents’ questionable choice to keep this secret partly came from a fear of shame. Immigrant parents often carry the weight of responsibilities related to establishing a home in another country and are reluctant to share that weight with their children.
I’ve seen many other Filipina reviewers like Sue from HNS, note that some of the cultural nuances will be lost to people outside of our culture, so it’s worth remembering that some cultural stories are not necessarily shaped just for Western readers in mind.
As someone who is unfamiliar with the green card system, I looked to people who are more knowledgeable, and Claribel Ortega’s thread on the diverse reasons behind the undocumented status of immigrants in the US is worth reading. I thought Something In Between gave interesting insights into how power and privilege works. The grey area where the conservative senator is only willing help to Jasmine when she becomes important to a loved one is very telling of these dynamics.
On a lighter note, I skimmed through the romance between Jasmine and Royce. It was filled with all the hallmarks of a giddy first love, which my much younger teen self would have been more invested in than I was. Though despite some of the teleserye moments, I liked how they realistically disagreed and made-up at different points in the story and appreciated how both Jasmine and Royce acknowledged their mixed heritage.
Exposition in first person narration is quite common in younger contemporary YA books, so it didn’t bother me too much. Although I did find that Jasmine as a character (who is actually flawed despite the perfect pitch) makes some generalisations, which I would challenge. For example, it is normal for family members to jokingly call each other taba in Filipinx culture but it’s a norm that I question rather than accept because it can sometimes be jeering and cause unspoken damage to a loved one’s body image.
Also, Jasmine expresses her desire to give ‘voice to the voiceless,’ in a school speech but if she was talking about marginalised identities outside of her own, it would have been better to recognise that the marginalised have voices. Allies listen to and support other marginalised voices. They share platforms instead of being the only one to hold the loudspeaker.
My one contextual critique of the current publishing landscape (not this book, which reflects a valid real experience) is that it is equally as important to share the stories about Filipinx who don’t conform to traditional markers of success as model students. Despite not being all-rounders, they still work hard and find success in their chosen pursuits. Their experiences need to be shown as equal to the above.
As adults, we learn that there are different ways of measuring success. This is a point Jasmine only briefly reflects upon. It needs to be explored more deeply in books, so I welcome the stories that will add different perspectives to growing up as a Filipinx-American or Filipinx-Australian.
The author also acknowledges that Jasmine’s story as an excellent student and undocumented immigrant is a singular one (which closely mirrors her own experience) among the many different stories out there. Something in Between will give solace, comfort and joy to a reader with similar experiences but it’s worth noting that diversity comes in many forms and intersections within a culture. I am grateful that the writer has shared such a timely story inspired from her own experiences, so I’m hopeful for more own voices stories to come.
*Also, do check out Pia’s fantastic own voices perspective review of this book at Intrepid YA.