Easy vs. Honest
The topic of undocumented immigrants is not an easy one to bring up, even in fiction. Melissa de la Cruz's newest novel Something in Between takes on that challenge, with a personal foundation: de la Cruz's own experiences with green cards and US immigration.
In her junior year of high school, Jasmine finds out that she and her family are undocumented, and that all of the things she's been working towards are not available to her because of her status. It's a scary situation, and one that hasn't really been explored in YA fiction. What can teens do if they find out they've been undocumented all along? What kind of future could they have?
de la Cruz centers Jasmine as a perfect student, with a loving Filipino family, and I was delighted to see them. While I didn't need a lot of the explanations and set-up explaining Filipino customs and culture, I appreciated having them there for teen readers who might not as familiar. Jasmine was an earnest character, almost painfully so, and her optimism comes through quite easily on the page. She does read a bit younger than 17, with interjections and dialogue that can be jarring for the reader.
The plot itself--how will Jas keep her family from getting deported in the face of a new law?--is thin, and not as detailed as I would have liked. It doesn't need to be dense paragraphs of text explaining the law, but the sense of urgency never leaps off the page, and I never really worried about Jasmine and her family.
Everything comes a little too easily for Jas for it to be believable, though de la Cruz does provide some context for that. She's a model minority of a character: an excellent student, involved in extracurriculars, well-liked, always honest, always deferential to authority. None of these things are bad, and none of these things make Jas a bad character. But these qualities are used as justification for people's treatment of her, because how can a girl so perfectly perfect ever be deported? It's not a fair judgment of undocumented immigrants, as it stacks the cards against those who would still benefit from stability and a place in life, even if their pasts aren't quite as squeaky clean as Jasmine's.
The romance is entwined with Jasmine's predicament, and doesn't feel very real or engaging, again because of how easy everything works out. Stakes are raised to a minimum, and handled without too much fuss. Perhaps Something in Between is the perfect title for this book, as it doesn't manage to commit to the harsh realities of undocumented immigrants, insisting instead on boundless optimism.