I received this book for free in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Ratings: 3/5 ☕☕☕
I really want to give this book good ratings because there were so many parts that were brilliantly written. Katie Li is a talented writer, one I would definitely want to read more from, and while her debut novel Somewhere In Between is a beautiful story that will transport you away from the real world, it has several issues which are preventing me from putting this particular on my best-reads list.
The Writing: Katie Li’s writing is very simple and yet has a sort of charm to it that will draw you in. Her descriptions of the surroundings—both in the real world and in the in-between place—is so lifelike that you cannot help but feel like you are actually there, experiencing all of the things that the characters themselves were experiencing. My favorite parts of the book were undoubtedly the moments when the characters would go to the in-between place; the description was minimal and yet the world building was so powerful and vivid that I could easily imagine myself there. I cannot quite explain it, but Katie Li’s writing has this beauty that will make you feel calm, and peaceful while reading her story. It has this mystical quality that went well with the premise of the book and all things considered, Somewhere In Between earns two coffee cups from me because of the fantastic writing.
As they walked, the snow was already starting to fall. It swirled around them as they stood on the platform, waiting for the train. Single snowflakes landed on their coat sleeves, and they marveled at how each had its own pattern—a frozen star—gathered together in a mini constellation.
The Characters: Although Li is a brilliant writer, the characters were unfortunately quite bland and very difficult to connect with. Both our MCs Magnolia and Rom are misfits in their own way and are dealing with their own difficulties but it was hard for me to sympathize with them or even feel anything for them. There are two reasons for this. One: the thoughts, emotions and the reactions of the characters weren’t written well and during the book, there were several moments when their reactions were simply unrealistic and not convincing at all. To give you an example, I’ll be quoting some parts of the book without giving spoilers. Below is their reaction when they first stumble into a magical, impossible place.
“This is weird,” he said.
They stood and watched until the heat in their bodies faded and they began shivering again. Then she picked up one of the flowers that had fallen off the branch and carefully tucked it into her bag. They turned around to go home.
And this is their reaction when they go into said magical place a second time and find out that the entire place has changed.
They didn’t talk about what they saw. They walked to the station and said good-bye with their usual “See you tomorrow.”
Cause that’s what normal people do when they discover a magical world.
A shame really, because the rest of the book was so believable, but this is sadly one of those books where the characters are lifeless and have nothing to offer at all. It’s very difficult to enjoy a book—much less love it—when the main characters lack depth, no matter how good the writing may be.
The second reason why I had difficulty connecting to the characters: they had no character arc. Neither Magnolia nor Rom goes through any sort of character development, and while the writer did try to tell us that these two people had changed over the past years before they reunited, I couldn’t see it for myself. Teenage Magnolia sounded just like Present Magonlia—she was just a bit more depressed—and Teenage Rom was exactly like Present Rom. And while Rom had some cheerfulness that made it easy for me to care about him, Magnolia was, for all intents and purposes, an invertebrate whose sole aim in life was to be her boyfriend’s arm candy. I understand that she was supposed to be a girl who had made bad decisions, but the author could not pull it off well enough, and the fact that I had to deal with all the reasons why Magnolia’s life sucked before I even got to know the character put me off her in the very beginning of the book. She was practically a stranger to me—all I knew was that she used to have blue hair and was a punk—and here the writer is telling me all sorts of stuff about how miserable her life is for more than four pages.
It’s okay for writers to try to make readers sympathize with a character by trying showing their sufferings, but there has to be a limit to it, because otherwise, instead of sympathizing with the characters readers would be annoyed with them and call them “whiny”.
Never, ever, try to show a character’s sufferings in the beginning of a book when they are a complete stranger to the reader.
The Plot: Just like Katie Li’s characters, the plot was poorly developed. I like stories where there is a mix of fantasy and realism, but it just didn’t work here, perhaps because of the lack of logic behind the fantasy world. And yes, you do need a little bit of logic in a fantasy book. Just because it has magic doesn’t mean you can get away without an explanation—and that’s something I did not get here. However, like I said, the world-building was incredibly powerful, and the way their escapades into the in-between place starts to affect the real world was just remarkably well written, so the writer does deserve some credit for that.
That being said, I personally thought this book could have been better if it wasn’t in the romance genre, because I honestly could not see it happening between Rom and Magnolia. There was no spark and I failed to see how they were in love with each other. I chalk this up to poor character development and poorly written emotions and reactions, but the fact remains that this book is a failure as a romance novel.
Because that was the night he realized that he loved her, and he had to admit that nothing would ever happen between them. He had looked up at the moon and turned to point it at her, but saw that she was sleeping. He didn’t have the heart to wake her up. And that’s when he knew what it meant to love someone.
That’s how you know love a girl?
The Ending: This book had a rocky start and a moderate middle, but that ending was just perfect and it earned the book one last coffee cup from me. Although it did feel too abrupt, it was very well written, logical and really for a book like this, that was the perfect ending. It wrapped up the story so well that for a moment I was left stunned as I tried to come to terms with what happened.
Throughout the whole book, I didn’t feel that much of an urge to continue reading this. In fact, if I was the kind of person to DNF a book, this would have been it, if it wasn’t for the in-between place. I guess this is the kind of book that has a lot of potential to be great but ends up being mediocre because of lack of development in both plot and characters. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. I’d recommend you save this for a rainy day.