I think there might be a TV show with “In-Betweeners” in its title (or that is its title?), but that’s not what I’m talking about today. Instead, I’m talking about something much more relevant to books and YA in particular: the feeling of not fitting in because you aren’t “normal” but you’re not extreme enough to fit into a particular group.
This idea first came to mind when I was reading all the recent reviews for Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified. This book went on my to-read shelf immediately after I read the summary and saw it was about a black, bisexual girl recovering from an eating disorder, and all the recent praise for it makes me even more excited to read it. These reviews do more than get me excited to read the book, though – they got me thinking.
A big part of the protagonist’s identity seems to come from the fact that she’s so in between – she used to belong to a group of friends who are all lesbians, but she was kicked out because she was bi; she apparently had or was developing an eating disorder, but she’s in recovery and therefore not on the precipice of death and the picture of a “typical” person with anorexia (although there’s a dangerous idea to have anyway, but that’s not the point right now); and she loved and excelled at ballet, but she wasn’t the right “fit” (ie she wasn’t small and white), so she had to give it up. She’s stuck in between so many things – gay and straight, healthy and too skinny, a “true” ballerina and someone with no ballet experience whatsoever – and that’s something I feel like I can identify with before I even read the book.
I’ve always kind of like an in-betweener when it comes to many things. I like to think that I have many talents, and that if I focused more on one or two of those talents, I would be truly, truly good at them, but I never had the patience to just focus on one thing. I like to write, draw, take pictures, make graphics, run a book blog, and so many other things. Other than writing, which is my special thing, I don’t think I’m particularly excel at any of these things. I’m decent-to-fairly good, perhaps, but I never focus on each thing to become truly good.
The same can go for my personality/myself in general. I have anxiety, so I’m not perfectly well-adjusted, but I’m working on handling it and it was only really bad for a couple of weeks when I started getting help, so I don’t always feel like I can identify myself with my anxiety as much as others might. I also have some issues with food and eating, but I’m not super-skinny or have a full-blown eating disorder, so I don’t feel like I can talk about it either.
There are plenty of other in-between places to be in: you could be depressed, really sad and full of too many emotions or not enough emotions, but because you don’t feel it all the time or don’t feel suicidal or something, you might not feel that you can truly define yourself as “depressed.” You might love basketball and be a decent basketball player, but because you aren’t the best or expected to go pro someday, you feel like you can’t identify yourself as a “real” basketball player.
There are just so many ways that people, especially teenagers and young adults who are struggling to define themselves in general, can feel like they’re stuck in between. It’s really important to have books about extremes – books about people who are perfectly healthy but are dealing with someone else’s problems, or, more likely, someone dealing with a diagnosed issue, like an eating, mental, or physical problem – but we need books for the people in between as well, the people who already feel isolated because they don’t really “fit.”
I want books about people who are in therapy because they decided it was a good idea to beat their problems head-on. I want books about people who might be considered legally blind but can still see some things. I want books about people whose race is always questioned, who sometimes pass for white whether they want to or not.
I want books for the in-betweeners in us all.