Rummanah Aasi
  As a child who lived in Chicago, I didn't think too much about diversity. I guess I had always assumed I would always be with people from different racial/ethnic backgrounds than mine. It's not until I moved to the suburbs during my last few months of junior high that I realized how I was no longer just another Pakistani-American girl, but almost always the only Pakistani-American girl in most of my classes in high school. I wish I had books like The Whole Story of Half A Girl as a kid to help me with this huge culture shock, but I'm glad that many do now because it is really needed.

 Description (from Goodreads): After her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia's mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions-questions Sonia doesn't always know how to answer—as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren't part of the "in" crowd.
   At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she's dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent—it's hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia's father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are—and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole.


Review: On its surface The Whole Story of Half A Girl is your traditional coming of age story, but Hiranandani's delightful debut novel adds humor alongside tackling sophisticated and tough issues such as cultural identity, economic hardship, and mental health, which adds depth and complexity to the story.
  Sonia Nadhamuni's likes her school, friends, and family. Her bubble of safety, however, bursts when she finds out that her father loses his job and falls into clinical depression. Due to financial strain, Sonia is taken out of her well-loved progressive private school and enrolled in the public, larger, Maplewood Middle School, where she knows no one. Sonia has the challenge of developing her identity from scratch.
   At Maplewood Middle School her classmates are fixed on her Jewish American and East Indian heritage. She is constantly asked which half she belongs to, which makes Sonia question her cultural heritage for the first time. What is she exactly? She doesn't follow the Jewish or Hindu religions, so how could be either? Her mother is Caucasian but her father is Indian, so she's not really Indian right? These questions and more make Sonia feel  unsure of how to articulate her racial and cultural identity. For me the cultural identity angle hit a strong cord. I knew exactly what Sonia was feeling. How do you explain your identity to others? How do you put all your halves together to become a whole person?
   On top of this hard hitting issue, Sonia has to travel through the dangerous realm of friendships, where the label of popularity or social outcast is made based on your friends. At home, Sonia feels alienated from her parents. She can never tell in which mood she'll find her father. Her mother is completely over-worked and stressed just to make meet ends, which hinders her close relationship with her daughter. Things come to a breaking point when Mr. Nadhamuni disappears, which sets off a catalyst for Sonia to reevaluate her friendships and accepts the fact that her dual heritage makes her a unique and whole girl.
 I loved how the author uses a number of issues in the book as they naturally progress in the story. It never felt forced or unbalanced. Though I groaned when Sonia was being bratty or made the wrong decisions, I can understand her emotions. By the end of the book, I rooted for her and felt her story kind of mirrored my own in some way. We seem to be taught to fear the unknown or what we don't understand, but I hope readers of this book will realize that diversity isn't something to be afraid of, but rather embraced. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.


If you like this book try: Bloomability by Sharon Creech and for older middle school readers try Born Confused by Tanuja Hidier Desai, The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
7 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Ooooo a 4.5! That's really saying something Rummanah! I know you use these higher ratings sparsely like I do, so when you post one I know it's going to be amazing. I have to say I probably never would have picked this book on my own, but since it's coming so highly recommended I think I need to give it a try!


  2. I think I'd be able to relate to Sonia's story quite well. It's such a culture shock to go from being the minority to being the majority, especially when you are in school, which is what I went through when I moved from central TX to South TX. I definitely think the issues explored in this book are ones that are important to examine. Thanks for this review, Rummanah. I love learning about new to me books.


  3. I love that you review these culturally diverse books. This sounds like another terrific coming of age book to check out on a different culture. I am glad there is plenty of humor as well. Thanks for calling this to my attention.


  4. I think I've heard of this book before. I can't remember for sure. It's definitely the type of book I think should be out there more. I'm fascinated by Indian culture and I've enjoyed all the books I've read featuring Indian characters or immigrants. I think featuring a mixed ethnicity character is true to many Americans' experiences.


  5. I'm totally adding this one to my wishlist, Rummanah. I love books where the main character is a part of a minority group and has to figure out who they are. For something similar, I'd recommend Justina Chen's books.


  6. "I hope readers of this book will realize that diversity isn't something to be afraid of, but rather embraced." That's what I hope when I read contemporary novels and when others read them. Difference doesn't mean you have to be scared. Life would be pretty boring if we were all the same. This sounds like a really great book. My kids would probably benefit from it.

    This was a really great review. I haven't followed you long enough to know how much you give out higher ratings, but this one is definitely going on my reading list.

    Heather


  7. Frustrated Sister Says:

    I wasn't really fond the book. When is this taking place? Where exactly? What if a young girl had to write a report on this? Yeah, I'm all for awareness on culture shock and how different cultures are, but I think there are some things that need to be more specific - especially because it's aimed towards younger readers. Today, there isn't as much discrimination and kids don't care as much of "Where do you belong?" because most of them have learned to just accept different cultures. The author wrote this with her experience being half-Jewish and half-Indian. This (half) discrimination she experienced could be from when she was young, which is something the readers aren't aware of. When was she younger? What time period was this? I'm sorry, I just wanted to express my frustrations with this. My sister thought the book was okay, but dramatic. She's 10. We're a "minority" also, but she says she has never experienced or witnessed something like this. It boggles her mind that stuff like this has happened before (culture wise). I just think that there should be a more defined setting.


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