By Katie Li
Pseudo-punk Magnolia and underachieving gamer-geek Rom are two unlikely friends who only hang out during their walks home together after school. When they find the a portal that leads to different worlds, they use the “in-between place” as an escape from their lives in high school, then later, after college. Their visits through the portal bring them teetering along a tight-rope of fantasy and reality, where they don’t always believe what is in front of them, not even their feelings for each other.
Li's stated ambition is to write an anime novel (novella, in this case), and she achieves that beautifully here: the characterizations, the scenery, the shifting narrative, all evoke an anime-other world. Rom and Magnolia wander through the maze of life, adrift and apart from it, trying to come to terms with reality even while they shy from it. The story shifts between their high school years and the lost summer after college, when both characters escape into the In-Between Place to avoid the pressures of life. But the In-Between Place changes every time they enter it: it's a lonely forest once, a ruined town the next, an abandoned amusement park, and so on, and the only constancy is the complete lack of any other life forms. When Rom suggests they stay, Magnolia asks, "What will we eat?" When he replies that he can nip back out into reality for groceries, she reminds him, "But who says the place will be the same when you get back?" The loneliness that the characters feel is etched into the very fabric of the place they find refuge in.
Li writes lyrically, and her work is delicately sketched and thoughtful, with an ending that left me wondering, "Wait, did that just really happen?" Even weeks after reading her book, I'm still mulling it over. Needless to say, I highly recommend Somewhere in Between.