Something in Between – Melissa de la Cruz

Synopsis

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.

Review

Whew. What a story. I almost don’t know where to begin. The topics covered by this story were incredibly timely, and very evidently personal to Melissa de la Cruz. This past election was the first one she got to vote for, and I am sure that the results were devastating. “Build a wall,” “save our jobs,” and any other protectionist rhetoric is the opposite of what this book stood for. It doesn’t matter if Trump can’t actually implement some of his radical platform plans; the fact of the matter is that those plans resonated with enough people to make them want to vote for him.

I took on a lot of international business courses this term. A quote by Henry George resonated with me in particular — to paraphrase, in times of war, we blockade our enemies by limiting trade (and thus, their ability to productively fund their war efforts). But in times of peace, we do the same to ourselves through tariffs (and other protectionist measures to hinder our productive capacity). I know that’s a little theoretical and pie-in-the-sky, but it explains the value of immigration and other mechanisms that allow the economy to thrive. Free trade, both of natural resources and human resources, makes the economy more productive. We are all better off from collaboration. With today’s political climate, my heart goes out to all my friends studying in the US at Columbia, UCs, and especially at UPenn (Pennsylvania, how could you?). The ideological differences that led to this political outcome are staggering. But I’ll get off my soap box and get back on topic.

Years ago, I loved Melissa de la Cruz’s “The Ashleys” series, but outgrew the pettiness that came hand-in-hand with series’ in that vein (The Clique, Gossip Girl, etc.). But this story was otherworldly. It was personal, uncomfortable at times, and challenged the status quo. Sometimes it felt a little preachy, but the emotional appeal definitely struck a chord with me.

Jasmine’s story was so hard to read. I teared up all the way through. I honestly, honestly thought this book was going to veer towards political advocacy. I thought Jasmine was going to speak up, share her story, and play an instrumental role in large-scale reforms. I thought she was going to claim her immigrant status (which okay, yes she did), share her plight with the masses, and change some minds. At the end of the day though, I suppose that was an unrealistic assumption for me to make.

The actual story was a lot more realistic. Your network is everything. People can get by with a little help from their friends. And there are always other ways through. I appreciated that about Jasmine and Royce. Jasmine was a character that I really identified with. She’s incredibly self-motivated and competitive. She likes being an achiever. She’s laser-focused on her goals, and never experienced any of those high school experiments for the sake of it. Her relationship with Royce was everything I could ask for — with the right person, the world spins a little differently.

Meanwhile, I struggled to understand Jasmine’s father. Can we call him a coward? How could he give up so easily? But on the other hand, I understand perfectly. He did his best, and he failed. It’s hard to let go of your pride, especially when so many people depend on you. His job, his status, his dependence on the whims of a few people who have NEVER been in his shoes… those pressures are all designed to debase you. Also, aren’t student visas a thing? Private institutions accept international students all the time, and high international tuition didn’t seem to be a deal breaker. This little loophole bugged me a bit, since I don’t think Jasmine’s situation was as dire as it was made out to be.

I’m so glad this story had more to it than the epic love story and Jasmine’s family’s struggles. Some characters were a little one-dimensional (like the other National Scholars, or Mason, honestly). But we get to see others’ problems too. Kayla’s story was important, and so was Danny’s. Even Royce’s parents’ political careers were insightful. Millie, bless her heart — I honestly feared the worst outcome for her in this book. Thanks for keeping that open.

Filipino culture played a huge role in this book, and I appreciated many of the references to bibinyka and “Tito Boy”s (I literally know a Tito Boy and a Tita Baby… go figure.). “Something in Between” is such an apt description for what it feels like to be someone like me or Jasmine. I was born in Canada, but I’m the child of immigrants. My parents are Chinese, but they were born in the Philippines. Throw me in China or the Philippines, and I am always a fish out of water. But here, people don’t understand many of the cultural nuances either. I’m a “hyphen” in many ways — a Canadian-born Chinese person whose family is from the Philippines (“Filipino-Chinese-Canadian,” perhaps)? My last name is a hyphen, so people assume I’m mixed, when I’m not. When I’m pressed about it, I can get a little sensitive, which admittedly might come from a place of prejudice (I’m sorry!). But anyone who knows about Chinese communities in Southeast Asia understands how significant these nuances are. There are Chinese-only private schools. Many Chinese residents have Filipina maids and drivers, much like the Royce residence. On the flip side, Filipinos also have derogatory terms for local Chinese people, and take offense to being called “Inchiks” or “Chinoys.” It’s complicated, and I really didn’t intend to go into the historical origins or details here.

Essentially, my identity and my name is unique, and “Something in Between” is the perfect way to sum it up. I look and talk like my CBC (Canadian-born Chinese) friends, but I speak a different Chinese dialect (with a few Tagalog words here and there) and eat with a spoon and fork rather than chopsticks. I have different traditions for Chinese New Year and the Mooncake Festival. But I’m not like Filipino-Canadians either. I haven’t been to Catholic school since I was in kindergarten, and people don’t know to share”the look,” as described through the kinship between Jasmine and Maria, with me (unless I’m with my parents).

This review got really long, rambly, and probably a little too personal/political/ideological. It was thought-provoking, and made the reality of the US election all the more poignant. America, what have you DONE? I know there’s a low chance that Melissa de la Cruz will read this, but I want her to know that this book was meaningful to me, and for that I am grateful.

Related Reading

  • The Unexpected Everything – Morgan Matson
  • The Wrong Side of Right – Jenn Marie Thorne
  • Defending Taylor – Miranda Kenneally
  • Rules for 50/50 Chances – Katie McGovern
  • The Distance Between Us – Kasie West

Rating: 5/5

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