What does it mean to be truly seen? How can someone be forgotten in a crowd? In "The In-Between," author Rebecca K.S. Ansari gives insight into these two questions while taking you on a mysterious journey that looks at the past, present and maybe even the future.
"The In-Between" was so much more than the mystery I expected. It is also a story about family and divorce, juvenile diabetes and friendships, but there are elements that will chill your blood and serious subjects you don't often find in juvenile fiction. However, all of these different elements come together for a journey well worth traveling.
Cooper is a 13-year-old boy living in Chicago who is from a broken family. His father left three years ago and started a new family even before the divorce was final. Now remarried and living in California, Cooper just found out there is another half-sibling on the way. The book opens with Cooper smashing a beloved pocket watch — once belonging to his great-great-grandfather — to bits with a baseball bat because it was a gift from his father. While this is happening, we are also introduced to the girl across the street who always sits silently in her tire swing and stares at Cooper — never speaking, just staring. Cooper's family now consists of his mom, who has to work a second job to make ends meet and is a vegetarian, and his younger sister, Jess, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes just months before their dad left. Now life revolves around Jess' blood checks and new ways to cook eggs. In Cooper's eyes, nothing has been about him since this happened, and to make matters worse, he is the only one who can smell the "Juicy Fruit" scent of her breath when her sugar is dangerously high.
All this life drama comes together when Jess discovers an article on the internet about a long ago train wreck in which one young boy was never identified even though he was wearing a shirt with a distinct crest that was partially burned. She found it while researching the insignia that is on the jacket of the girl across the street. How could this be? Now the two siblings find something to share and embarque on a quest to figure out what the crest means and why they only seem to find it left at the scene of mass casualties with unidentified child victims. During this time, Cooper makes a new friend, Gus, whose parents are going through an extremely rough time in their marriage. He has been sent to stay with his grandma who lives down the street. The two boys find they have a lot in common and begin to open up to each other. This gives Cooper the courage to confront the girl, Elena, and find out why she seems so interested in him. Gus arrives, and since no answers are forthcoming from Elena, the siblings fill him in on their research and thoughts about how she can possibly be connected to the mass accidental deaths they keep finding when searching for the emblem. While Gus isn't truly on board, he doesn't say they are crazy either.
From here, the story travels many roads, some I expected and some that caught me totally off guard. And while the mystery is important, the real value in this story is what you learn about children who believe no one sees or understands them and those who feel if they shut everyone out, they can't be hurt any more than they have been. "The In-Between" may just make you look closer at those you meet and maybe look for ways to help some who can't help themselves.
Donna Loehner is the children's programming associate with the Missouri River Regional Library.