contemporary · own voices · young adult

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

30048590

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

Source: Library

Thoughts:

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.

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11 thoughts on “Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

    1. Thanks Wendy! I found it hard to strike a balance between a supportive but thoughtful look at an own voices Filipino book, so I hope I conveyed my thoughts okay. I wasn’t really invested in the romance but I found the other aspects worth reading! (Though others did enjoy the romance, so it might just be me =)

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  1. Great review, Glaiza! I recently reviewed this book myself but I came nowhere as close to your level of detail, haha. I agree with you re: its portrayal of power and privilege was pretty good, and that overall it’s a very important (and much needed) book in the YA community.

    And like you, I’d also love to see more books that talk about success in a different context rather than just grades (or even money, when we look at more adult books). Hopefully we see more books embracing this kind of narrative as it is definitely reflective of real life.

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    1. Thanks Reg! Will check out your review. I agree, I’m glad that this book is out now because it’s so needed for the current political climate. Though I’m hopeful for narratives that do explore success in a different light too.

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    1. Loved Reg’s review too! I think my reviews are a bit rambly but I’m glad they make people curious 🙂 It’s definitely a timely book, so I’m also happy more readers are picking it up.

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  2. I absolutely loved this review, Glaiza. It was very thoughtful and honest. It was not rambly at all! haha 🙂
    I bought the book and got it signed by the author. Let’s hope I find time for it next year, after which I’ll review it because I do want more readers to be exposed to this kind of narrative.

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    1. Thank you Naz! It took me a longer time to write and share this one, so much thanks =). I wasn’t sure if I would share my perspective but I’m so happy this book is on your reading pile. Signed books & author greetings are the best!

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  3. Glaiza! I loved reading your thoughtful (totally not rambly 🙂 ) review! I was also recently thinking about and problematizing the portrayal of Jasmine as a “model” hardworking, perfect student. Even though, as de la Cruz writes in the Author’s Note, this is clearly an experience authentic to the author, I agree that it highlights the need for a wider range of Filipino narratives in the popular Western market. Somewhere in Between is an important story, and hopefully paves the way for many more!

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    1. Thanks so much Pia! I will definitely amend my review to include that it reflects the author’s experience. I agree so much that there is such a range of narratives to be read and that Somewhere in Between will hopefully, open doors for them. I also didn’t want to invalidate the experience shared in this book either, but still acknowledge how the model student portrayal is often the dominant narrative.

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