The Sky is Totally Falling
The Whole Story of Half a Girl is a quietly cool book that hit shelves last January. It wins points for its good cover, featuring a girl’s shredded jeans and doodled-on purple Converse sneakers. Inside, you’ve got a solid story about a middle schooler's world falling apart. It’s realistic fiction at its best, and perfect for kids grappling with identity issues--particularly biracial children, who are often faced with the confusing question of “Where do I fit in?”
I Don’t Know?
Like the author, Veera Hiranandani, main character Sonia is half Indian and half Jewish-American. When her father loses his job, financial circumstances force her to attend public school for the first time. She doesn’t necessarily miss the academics of her private school (though her grades do start to slip), but desperately misses the friends she grew up with and the school’s easygoing and inclusive atmosphere.
At her new school, kids suddenly start shooting uncomfortable questions at her; questions about race, culture, religion, and other topics that she doesn’t feel ready to address. She wavers about where she should sit in the cafeteria and wonders if she fits in more with black kids or white kids. Either way, she gets disapproving looks from both groups.
Nods to the Classics
When a popular cheerleader takes an interest in being her best friend, Sonia is confused, but relieved. It’s nice to have a friend who is fun and gives her enough credibility to “fit in,” if only in a limited way. But Miss Cheerleader turns out to have some ulterior motives. This storyline will remind adults of Jane Austen’s Emma. As critics have pointed out, the overall story is also reminiscent of Judy Blume, particularly her classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Another well-done aspect of the story is watching Sonia’s dad slowly unravel. Yeah, he’s lost his job, and has a bad temper sometimes. But adults snap out of that stuff, right? In this case, her dad only gets worse, spending days in his bathrobe and becoming more and more angry and distant. The situation is eventually addressed and he begins treatment. Depression is depicted as a recurring condition that cannot be tidily treated but must be managed. This will surely speak to kids who live in homes where an adult’s depression seeps into their everyday lives.
Karen Choy is the Youth Services Librarian in Half Moon Bay. She cannot count how many times she's been asked "What are you?"