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In Between – Not Just a Title but Also the Theme

 A Book Review of In Between, by Jenny B. Jones

Katie Moves in with the Scotts

How does it feel to be in between in the small Texas town of In Between? We meet sixteen-year-old Katie in a minivan as her social worker, Mrs. Smartly, is driving her to a foster home. Katie’s mother, Bobbie Ann Parker is in prison for selling drugs. Katie has been in a group home since her mother was arrested six months ago. Until her mother left, Katie was pretty much raising herself.

Like many older children in foster care, Katie fears what she may find in a new home. Katie is really freaked out when she finds her new foster daddy, Jame Scott, is a preacher.  Katie has not spent much time in churches.  As Katie and Mrs. Smartly get closer to the Scotts’ home, Katie discreetly seeks clues on what her “pretend-o-parents” will be like. She says it this way:

It’s like I want to know about these people, but I don’t want Mrs. Smartly to think I’m too interested. Or scared.  The thing with foster care is you have way too much uncertainty. I knew where I stood at the girls’ home. I knew who to be nice to, who to totally avoid, and what the lumps in the dining hall mashed potatoes really consisted of.

As Mrs. Smartly keeps probing to find out what Katie is afraid of, we get a good idea of what life in the Sunny Haven for Girls was really like and what Katie fears about foster care. She is in between one life and another, and although she hated the old, she is afraid of what she might find in the new. She still smarts from the rejection of her mother, who chose drugs over her own child.  I remember one of my very own nephews grieving for the same reason many years ago. He never had to go to a real foster home, since my mother and I were allowed to take him and his brother in to our homes until their home was stable again. Eventually it was.

Foster Care is an Adjustment for Everyone

Jenny B. Jones has written In Between (and the books which follow it in this series) in Katie’s voice.  Though the books are targeted for young adults, I couldn’t put them down.  That may be partly due to my own experience as the foster parent of a troubled girl we later adopted. I only wish our experience could have been a bit more like the Scotts.  Our daughter left us when she was a few days from turning seventeen. As we continued to read In Between, we discovered that the Scotts’ also had an adopted daughter, Amy, who left them for some of the same reasons.  This is one more reason this book spoke to me.

In Between deals seriously with common problems both foster children and their foster parents face, and many of them are similar to what most teens and conscientious parents face.  These problems include self-esteem, acceptance, boundaries, discipline, expectations, drug abuse, and peer pressure.  More complicated issues include the fear of being sent away from a family once you feel at home, or having a child you have grown to love sent back to unsuitable parents.

We watch as Katie adjusts to learning about church and God, as she tries to fit into a new school and has to deal with a school bully who happens to be the daughter of her P.E. teacher, who is also a bully.  She first gets into the wrong crowd at school and gets into trouble. She is sure James and Millie will send her away, but they find a way to keep her from getting a jail record while providing some very appropriate consequences.

 Maxine  Provides Comic Relief

Almost the first thing Millie does after Katie moves in is take her mall shopping for new and fashionable clothes. This is followed with a new hair style. While they enjoy lunch at a restaurant, Millie’s phone rings and we first become aware of Millie’s eccentric mother, Maxine. Here’s how Millie describes her to Katie:

‘my mother is, um, different. I don’t want to scare you, but she’s been compared to Judge Judy….on crack’

We then learn that Maxine can no longer drive because she knocked over a few stop signs. So she bought a tandem bicycle that she named Ginger Rogers and had a little accident

‘wiping out in the street. Luckily though, the chicken truck stopped for her. After it hit a fire hydrant.’ (Millie) shakes her head and laughs. ‘It rained feathers and naked chickens for and hour. But Mother says she is close to perfecting he wheelie.’

As you might guess, Maxine and Rocky provide the comic relief in this book to keep it from getting too heavy.  Maxine reminded me a bit of Electra Lark, Temple Barr’s eccentric landlady in the Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas, but Katie’s foster granny Maxine makes Electra seem conventional.

My Recommendation

By now I’m fully immersed in Katie’s world. I have read all four books in the series, In Between (1), On the Loose (2), The Big Picture (3) and Can’t Let You Go (4).  I’m not a spoiler, so I won’t say much more about the plot. I can’t get enough of the characters. I now really care what happens to James, Millie, Katie, Frances (Katie’s friend), Sam (Maxine’s friend), Amy, and even Maxine, crazy as she seems.  Like most teens, Katie doesn’t learn all she should from her mistakes the first time around. James, Millie, and Maxine do their best to keep her safe from those mistakes and unlikely to repeat them.

Trust is a big issue, as it is in most families.  The books show how it is carefully built, violated,  and rebuilt. We see important changes in all the characters as the plot develops, and we get to know them well.

I recommend this series to all who want to get inside the heads of foster children and foster parents, to those who are foster teens or foster parents, or to anyone who is a friend of any of these.  Even when the plot moves into serious territory such as tornadoes, bullying, vandalism, and cancer, the author allows us to laugh and relieve the tension. She doesn’t put anyone on a pedestal and gives even ministers and their families heavy problems to grapple with.

Although the book is definitely Christian, it’s not goody-goody nor does it raise expectations that Christians will have trouble-free lives. Instead it shows believers trusting God in the midst of their pain and uncertainty.

Get the Series All at Once

I received In Between as a free eBook from Amazon. It may still be free if you hurry. But I give you fair warning. If you read it, you will want to get the other books immediately. I have now purchased and read them all. You can get all of them at once in the Kindle edition.  If you decide to buy the paper rather than the Kindle editions, be sure to buy them all at the same time to avoid being left hanging, waiting for the next book to arrive.

 

Featured photo at the top is one I took edited on PicMonkey.com

The photo below is perfect to share on Pinterest. The girl in the photo is my daughter, who had come to us as a disturbed foster child. The picture  was taken when she was about the same age as Katie was in the book. You can read her story here: Sarah: The Suicide of Our Adult Child

Book Review of In Between by Jenny B. Jones

Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal

It seems the protagonist or a main character of almost every noveI I have read recently has either been molested or abused as a child or both.  I almost feel like an anomaly for having had a normal childhood with two parents who stayed married to each other, loved me, and protected me.  As I read these novels, I’m also very grateful I had this kind of childhood. Leilani (Lei) Texeira had been abused as a child. Her mother had preferred drugs  to mothering  after her husband Wayne had gotten her hooked and then been sent to prison for dealing drugs when Lei was five.    Charlie Kwon had moved in with  her mother and molested Lei for six months, often when she was bathing.  As Lei put it, ‘Charlie’d had a way of getting to her, twisting everything he did to her into something she’d wanted.’  When Charlie broke up with Lei’s mom, she overdosed, and Lei was sent to live with her Aunty Rosario in California when she was nine. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. But she continued to have flashbacks to the bathtub scenes throughout Blood Orchids.

When we meet Lei in the first book of the Lei Crime Series, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1)she is a rookie in the South Hilo Police Department in Hawaii. She is pulling a young woman’s body out of the water as her partner, Pono, is phoning in her grisly discovery.  After Lei pulls a second girl from the water it is evident they have been murdered, and Detective Michael Stevens, from Los Angeles, and his partner Jeremy Ito, are put in charge of the case.

Lei isn’t happy about that. Since she discovered the bodies, she wants to be involved in helping to find the murderer. Finally, Stevens allows her to help since the help he has requested from other departments has not been given. Lei and Stevens spend more time together as the case unfolds. As the book (and series) progresses, much of it deals with the growing attraction between Lei and Michael Stevens.

Meanwhile, Lei has discovered she has a stalker who puts threatening notes in her mailbox and on her porch. Even though she has a security system and a pet Rottweiler, Keiki, she is still afraid.  She wonders if her neighbor, Tom Watanabe is her stalker since she thinks he looks at her in a creepy way. The reader sees several possible suspects besides Tom. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by mentioning them, but I did suspect the right people. I like that the author gave me enough clues to figure out who the killer was.

We see the murder of Mary, another woman police officer and a friend and classmate of Lei before the killer lets readers know that Lei herself will be his next target. I have trouble with books like this because they use a technique that builds suspense to the point that I can’t handle it. The reader knows from almost the beginning that a serial killer is responsible for the deaths of the two girls Lei and Pono found drowned.

Throughout the book there are passages where the killer speaks (in italics), savoring his mementos from his victims and the photos of them he has so carefully posed. He also lets the reader know ahead of time that there will soon be another killing and in some cases, who it will be. I’m sure this technique appeals to some readers who enjoy the suspense and the anticipation of the next murder. I don’t. I prefer books where the body is found and the detectives go to work methodically to find the killer as we follow in their steps and think with them.  In this book, the reader knows more than the police. I empathize too much and can’t stand knowing a character I’ve gotten to know is going to be grabbed and probably killed and that I will have to watch it happen.

Were it not for that, I would have found the book a fast-moving and entertaining escape. I just don’t consider being scared over and over entertaining the way some people do. I did enjoy the interaction between Lei and Pono and watching the romance between Lei and Stevens develop.

Lei has frequent flashbacks to the abuse she faced as a child, and what happened back then affects her ability to trust Stevens and her ambivalence creates tension. Stevens considers Lei’s willingness to take initiative in her work a strong point. She is also impulsive, though, and takes unnecessary risks.

At one point when she thinks her stalker has just put a note on her porch when she’s already dressed for bed, she turns Keiki loose and pursues on foot — a really dumb thing to do. It doesn’t end happily, and it results in her being disciplined by her boss and being forced into counseling. The counseling turns out to be a good thing. It continues into the second book after Lei has begun to see its value

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I am about halfway through the second book in the series, Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2).  I don’t think I will be able to finish it because the inner stress it produces in me is worse than even that in  Blood Orchids.  That same technique of letting the killer share his thoughts is used there, and Lei continues to take off on risky solo investigations on her own that could get her killed.  I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity

I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity of the mysterious Timekeeper. I would recommend this series to those who relish suspense and thrive on thrillers. The police detective work is thorough and chances are you will predict the killer if you pay attention to the clues the author lets you see.  Toby Neal knows how to create a mood that draws the reader into the book from the first page.

Despite my resistance to the suspense leading to witnessing violence, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1)
kept me turning the pages, and I couldn’t put it down even when I wanted to.  The author made me care about so much about the characters that I may sneak  to the end of Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2)
just to see what happens. I suspect Lei will find herself in a very dangerous position it will take all her strength and survival instincts to get out of.  I don’t want to watch, which is why I’ll skip the dramatic build-up and climax and just see how it is all resolved. In spite of the past pain in her life, Lei is a very caring detective who wants justice for the victims of the vicious.  I think you will enjoy getting to know her.