Katie Li’s Somewhere in Between is a Murakamiesque roller coaster ride through love, friendship, and time itself. (Not sure this “roller coaster” metaphor is working, but stick with me.) Magnolia, collector of lost things, and Rom, a shy gamer guy, form an unlikely connection as teens. Their friendship deepens when they discover a portal to another realm—the in-between place. Every time they visit, it’s different. When they go back to reality in their lovably ramshackle Boston neighborhood, the real world has shifted—sometimes in subtle ways, other times in major ways—as well.
This is no ordinary reading experience. It’s not the kind of book you can sit back and lose yourself in—but that’s a good thing. It requires the reader’s careful attention. In the Wizard of Oz movie, Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor wonderland of Oz, giving viewers a huge visual clue, in case we didn’t quite get it: You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! In Somewhere in Between, the font switches from boldface to roman, helping the reader track the shifts from one realm to the other. At chapter breaks, the book’s pages are intricately designed, festooned in flowers and vines.
One of my favorite passages is a discussion between Magnolia and Rom in the In-between Place. “Do you ever imagine what time looks like,” asks Magnolia. Rom doesn’t exactly understand why she’s asking, but she tries to explain it to him: “I don’t know—it just dawned on me the other day that when I think of time, it has a shape.” She asks Rom to close his eyes and describe how he thinks of time. He thinks of a calendar, of pages tearing off one by one. She says she sees time differently—like a roller coaster:
It’s a roller coaster, but it’s not fast. And you’re not sitting down. You don’t even really have a body. It’s just the feeling of moving in a roller coaster, January starts, and then it moves forward, sort of—I guess toward you? If you were looking at it. And then February goes, like, upward. And March gets higher, but then sort of plateaus.
I love this conversation because it’s exactly the way people get to know each other—really know each other. It’s how young people’s friendships deepen. They sit around and talk—not just about life and school and books and movies, but about how they think, how they view the world. You can’t have these conversations with just anybody—you wouldn’t want to! You reserve them for the people you trust. You feel like, if you just had enough of these kinds of conversations, you’d achieve some sort of perfect communion. They would get you, and you would get them, too.