Saturday, May 6, 2017

What we're reading: Another Teens' Top Ten nominee

For the cover of this year's Reading Log for Teen Summer Reading, and also for my illustration for Book Café, I chose to depict some of the books from the Teens' Top Ten nominees list for this year. I reviewed Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch, a few days ago, and have since read two more.

The first is a story about Jasmine, whose family immigrated to this country with her from the Philippines when she was a young girl. They sold her on the concept of the American dream, and were strict parents, encouraging her to throw all her energy into studying and cheer squad, so she could get into a good school and make something of herself. Jasmine goes along with this program, and is a single-minded scholar who foregoes a social life to constantly hit the books--and it pays off. One day, a letter arrives for her, and she is thrilled and excited to discover that she is has won a national scholar award, which includes with it a big dinner in Washington and a chance to meet the President, but also a real shot at getting a full financial ride at any school she chooses. But when she rushes home to share her excitement with her family, she doesn't get quite the reaction she was expecting: Her parents reveal to her that they lost their work visas years ago, meaning that the entire family--Jasmine, her parents, and her two little brothers--are in the country illegally. No green cards, no papers, means no scholarships, no college, and possible deportation.

The title of Melissa de la Cruz's book, Something in Between, expresses the ambivalence her character feels as she explores who she really is in light of this information. Is she an American, or is she a person with no status? For so many years she has put everything else on hold to do the right thing for her parents, and now she's wondering why she sacrificed everything for a lie.

With the national dialogue on immigration, paths to citizenship for undocumented people, and so on, I think this is the kind of story that demands to be highlighted right now. It was pretty well done, and there were some truly poignant moments, especially as Jasmine's priorities are abruptly shifted and she finds herself furious, sad, and at a loss for how she should feel about her change in status.

When I first started reading the book, I was afraid that the treatment would be a total cliché, so I was pleasantly surprised when everything didn't resolve in quite the way I expected. I even learned some things I didn't know about the immigration process. There was, however, still a lot of "in the nick of time" plot points that seemed a little convenient. And as usual (maybe I just have to stop reading teen books with romance in them?), I disliked intensely the meet-cute insta-love between Jasmine and Royce the senator's son, although there were elements of the relationship that I did like, based on the characters' different personalities. I mostly enjoyed the book, and particularly appreciated how it addressed both blatant racism and the nuances of small but offensive stereotypes.

Another TTT entry follows in a day or two...

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