- Page Count: 384
- Release Date: October 4, 2016
- My Rating: 3.5 stars
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.
The main story is about Jasmine de los Santos whose Filipino family are undocumented immigrants living in California. She doesn’t know this and is having a great time at high school — she’s captain of her champion cheerleading team, valedictorian, and has worked really hard to succeed. She wins a prestigious national scholarship and then meets Royce, the son of a congressman working to deport illegal immigrants. Jasmine’s dreams are crushed as she can’t accept the scholarship without her green card, can’t afford the prestigious schools she worked so hard to get into, and her family might be deported. (And their romance was pretty cute).
So the political side of this story is very well done! I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering with Mexican immigrant communities in the United States and then lived in rural southern Mexico for a semester to study politics and hear former immigrants’ stories. And even though I was familiar with the facts of the legal situations explained in this book, getting inside Jasmine’s head still gave me a new perspective I really appreciated!!
Melissa de la Cruz did an excellent job painting a picture of a very normal American family and how unfair their situation is. No matter what your political views, this could be a truly eye-opening story about the limits countless people face in trying to pursue a very regular lifestyle. The fear and shame that her family felt was tangible. I also thought that Jasmine’s processing of what it means to be an American was well done. (And I LOVED the little inspirational quotes at the top of each chapter).
The author’s note at the end explained that this story is very close to her own life story (she even won the Presidential Scholarship and National Merit Award in high school). So I have less of an issue with the ending now that I know it followed her own, but I still would have liked to have seen the story say more about look at all of the other immigrants who don’t have the right connections. What about them. Just highlighting that in a stronger way would’ve been nice
So I love the story for its realistic parts, but then my biggest problem is one completely unrealistic element. We’re constantly told how ambitious Jasmine is and how much she’s accomplished because she wins a fictional version of the Presidential Scholarship. I was involved in the competitive academic scene (some friends and I went through the whole Rhodes/Marshall/Truman loop after high school) and have since used that experience to do side jobs editing the essays & resumes of high school and college students applying for some of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. So I was beyond thrilled to see a main character who was smart, super motivated, and overly involved in her school & community! We don’t have nearly enough of them!!
But oh my goodness. I COULD NOT GET OVER how completely average Jasmine and her resume were. There is absolutely no way she would ever win something at that level, which was so disappointing to see. Just her getting a scholarship to Stanford is questionable. I understand that the author probably went to high school in the early 1990s when things were very different, but it completely killed the story for me. Like being captain of several teams, having a good GPA (hers wasn’t even a 4.0?), working part-time, and doing extensive community service are all the expected norm just to get into a good university these days. That’s the starting line. People do awesome stuff on top of that to stand out for scholarships & awards. The vision you have is what really matters and JASMINE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SHE WANTED TO DO. (I get that she had a strong personal story, but that is not going to carry her that far). You need a 10 year plan and a driven focus at this level, but Jasmine’s like “hmmm maybe med school or law school some day? I just want to help people…” while she’s sitting at the reception dinner. Wtf.
So give me a second to explain this frustration because it’s not like some small detail. A good part of the story rests on the credibility that Jasmine is this outstanding citizen, and the fact that that was so poorly executed kind of hints at the the political stuff not being as reliable. So I want to highlight that the political situation is well done — the author just ended up writing Jasmine as a high schooler from at least 15 years ago. It’s unfortunate that Jasmine’s character couldn’t be updated to reflect modern times because I know so many motivated, overachieving high school girls who would love to find a character they can relate to in that aspect. But it’s still a cute story aside from this aspect!
(And sorry for all of the personal anecdotes in this review, but maybe that’s a good thing I connected to so much of it? I guess the story felt real then).
I didn’t necessarily like or dislike Jasmine as a main character because her personality tended to fluctuate. I thought she was complex and realistic at times, but at other times she seemed surprisingly immature and weirdly dramatic. A lot of the book’s tension felt a bit forced — like the stuff with Royce’s older brother wasn’t totally necessary. The story could have dropped some of the typical YA angsty drama and gone more into the story with Jasmine’s family. I thought they were much stronger characters with more potential than the teen friends and romance.
I almost gave this book 5 stars for the sheer importance of the topic and the visibility it lends to people who often don’t have a voice. And while many parts are well done, I can’t deny that I was rather irritated throughout with what the plot chose to focus on. At times it seemed like the meat of the story was in the background and was being blocked by filler.
So the story as a whole was more of a 3 star read for me in the end, but I’m still giving it 3.5 stars because it’s the strongest YA depiction of an undocumented family that I’ve found! I definitely recommend it to everyone because EMPATHY.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy!