Kenny Lugo has lived with her father's girlfriend, "Aunt Glo," ever since her father went to prison for drug dealing and possessing paraphernalia. In the household are Glo's granddaughter, Daphne, and Glo's sons, Quincy and Tim-Tim. Unfortunately, Kenny’s mother is dead.
While Kenny's given name is Kendra, she strongly prefers the male nickname, binds her breasts, cuts her hair super short and wears boy's clothes. When she overhears Glo tell a friend that Kenny is "gender confused," Kenny doesn't disagree. She hates the fact of her femaleness and the telltale biological markers that come with it.
Kenny is stressed at school. She is an outsider there and frequently the target of bullying and teasing. The teasing in the ladies’ room is so unbearable that Kenny awakens in the middle of the night every night to drink as much water as she can. That way, she uses the bathroom at home in the morning and never has a reason to enter the school restroom.
Kenny worries about her future. Although she enjoys living with Glo, she expects to be left on her own when she turns 18 and the foster checks to quit coming in. Where will she go? What will she do? Can she become so indispensable that Glo won't let her leave? While she has vague plans to become a mechanic, her automotive repair teacher relegates the few girls in the class to the sidelines (the others are the giggling girlfriends of the boys in the class).
Yet there are sweet spots in Kenny’s life. She enjoys times at the beach, fishing with the family, and adores little Daphne. Even that love is not uncomplicated, though. Kenny has held tight to a dreadful secret about Daphne, from the time Daphne was a baby. She worries, too, that Daphne's drug-addicted mother will show up and take her.
Into Kenny's rather grim life, a terrible event has dropped. Vacationing girls mistakenly entered the next-door neighbor's home in the middle of the night. Elderly Jarvis Stanley, thinking that intruders were breaking in, shot and killed one of them. The dead girl's friend had been taken to Glo's house to wait for the police. Kenny can't stop thinking about the young victim and her companion, to the point of obsession. She’s torn because the woman who rented her vacation home to the girls is largely to blame for this tragedy, since she gave them the wrong address. Yet that same lady hires Kenny to do yard work, giving Kenny a much-needed source of cash.
At school, Kenny skips lunch (and the dreaded social life of the cafeteria). Instead, she hangs out in the yearbook staff workroom. The teacher, Ms. Brady, sometimes assigns her token work, but then gives her a job with the power to change her life, just about the time Kenny develops a goal that she hopes will solve the problem of what will become of her when she turns 18.
Kenny's story makes for a gripping read. Each character is true and real. Kenny is a person who yearns and struggles to grow and change, overcoming what feels like insurmountable odds in a hardscrabble life, making THE SWEET IN-BETWEEN an ultimately uplifting tale that readers won't soon forget.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on April 27, 2011
The Sweet In-Between