And the prize for the most flawed narrator of the year goes to: Ri Fernández. A strange way to start a review, I know, but I spent a fair bit of Nikki Barthelmess's Everything Within and In Between actively disliking the main character and despairing over her constant lies, tendency to jump to conclusions and refusal to communicate with those closest to her. I wasn't sure where the story was going for much of the book when suddenly, Barthelmess wraps it all together to deliver a solid ending.
Ri Fernández's grandmother wants her to live the American dream, to succeed in the world and enjoy the privilege that passing for white can bring her. The only problem is that Ri is desperate to reclaim her Mexican heritage and to rekindle her relationship with the mother who abandoned her.
When Ri begins taking Spanish classes at school, it sets her on course for a collision with her grandmother but also opens her eyes to the micro-aggressions and outright racism encountered by her Mexican friends and family.
Will Ri be able to navigate her messy relationships and feelings without losing everybody she loves?
This is a difficult novel to rate because I didn't enjoy it for the first three-quarters of the book and, as mentioned above, I did not like the protagonist. I was also confused by the timing in the story and couldn't quite understand - apart from the author telling us that it was happening - why situations with Ri's sudden love interest and best friend were escalating as quickly as they were. The situation seemed to go from zero to stratospheric in three days.
I also have specific concerns with the depiction of substance abuse in the novel, including cocaine. This is based entirely on my experience with teen addiction but I prefer substance-abuse themes in YA novels to be more cautionary. I did appreciate that Ri came to realise the dangers of her actions based on her predisposition towards addiction.
Nevertheless, something kept me going to the end and I'm glad I finished. I enjoyed how the various storylines were resolved and especially appreciated the character development of Ri and her best friend.
With trigger warnings for racism, prejudice, micro-aggressions, on-page drug abuse, alcoholism and parental abandonment, I give Everything Within and In Between an okay three out of five stars. As an adult, I enjoyed the outcome of the story but I'd recommend that parents and teachers engage in deeper discussions on the substance abuse present in the book.
Everything Within and In Between has been released to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States.
Everything Within and In Between is available on Amazon and Bookshop.org (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).
I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.