Tuesday, November 29, 2016

We Need Diverse Books - Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

When I read about how movie and tv producers erase, replace, minimize Asian characters in their shows because they believe that viewers aren't interested in stories with a lead character who is Asian or played by an Asian, I wish that there was a way to show them that an audience does exist.   And that we're willing to pay to explore stories about the Asian experience.  Perhaps I'm being a bit touchy but I would love to spend my money on books and shows that have Asian characters at the center of the story, not just as a supporting character or love interest.

I remember the excitement and joy I felt when I first read Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and decades ago when I'd read and watched Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club.  I read mysteries set in Southeast Asia and enjoy Ovidia Yu's sleuthing Aunty Lee.  I've read all of Kylie Chan's fantasy novels with the Celestial Gods in Hong Kong and China.  Occasionally, there will be a Filipino character who plays a supporting role but they're often a hardworking and loyal or good-looking and street smart  domestic helper or a former domestic helper turned mistress or second wife.

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz $18.99
ISBN 0373212380
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen (October 4, 2016), 448 pages.

When Melissa de la Cruz spoke at the Boston Book Festival this October, she shared the story behind her latest book, Something in Between.  It's the first book published by Seventeen Magazine's book imprint and the publisher had contacted de la Cruz to ask if she'd be interested in writing a story that dealt with immigration issues.  It's a subject that impacts millions of undocumented aliens and US citizens. It's a complex, volatile subject and we're living in a time of scarce resources and jobs.  This particular election has gotten many loud voices screaming - both those for and against more immigrants and refugees, for and against giving the undocumented a path to citizenship and the same rights as those who stayed and worked through legal channels.

In Something in Between, Melissa de la Cruz introduces us to a compelling and simpatico Filipino lead character.  The story is told from the perspective of a young Filipino and her experience as the head cheerleader, valedictorian, student council head and scholar.  While Jasmine's  parents are still very Filipino and her two younger brothers seem more American than Filipino, Jasmine thinks of herself as something in between.  I enjoyed how de la Cruz wove in parts of the Philippine experience and culture but also showed that their experience is also the American experience.

The immigration issues are just one part of the plot. The love story of Jasmine and Royce takes up just as much time and weight.  Royce is the son of a wealthy congressman and opponent of immigration reform, but despite their superficial differences, it is clear that Jasmine and Royce share something special.  Jasmine sometimes feels like an outsider and uncertain with her boyfriend's family's wealth (and their Filipino maid), but she grows more comfortable both with them and with herself.  Royce proves comfortable with Jasmine's loud, crazy, close family and friends.  

Being first generation Filipino, I appreciated and welcomed the many references to Filipino culture and food. Jasmine came across as authentic.  Something in Between is a delightful read on its own, but with the added spice of Filipino culture and perspective of an undocumented family, I highly recommend it.

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