Synopsis: A timely novel about cultural identity and the impact of having a parent suddenly out of work.
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.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Veera Hiranandani’s The Whole Story of Half A Girl is a middle grade book with some mature topics. Hiranandani approached issues of race, perception, and identity with tact and honesty, while managing to keep the story appropriate for the middle grade readers.
Sonia Nadhamuni is about to go through a life-altering change, at the young age of thirteen. Her father recently lost his job, and as a result, the family has to make several changes to adjust to their new financial situation. Moving from a private school, now to a public school, this means that Sonia has to make new friends, new teachers, and possibly a new identity. Sonia struggles to fit in, asking questions that she has never asked before: about her race, her religion, and her identity. This begins a deeper look at her family, and more specifically her father.
Sonia is so young, and if I were in her place, I would have most likely acted the same way. But Sonia understands who she is, despite the many questions of unknowns that she may have. Hiranandani developed her character in a realistic way, understanding what it means to think about serious topics at a young age. While Sonia may have typical reactions and pouts about superficial things, she grasps the importance and weight of many others. Sonia is simple, and easy to relate to. It didn’t matter what our age difference was, she had a fresh view of life, innocent and unaffected.
There are several topics that set the theme of The Whole Story of Half a Girl. Even though this was a middle grade book, I still felt the anguish and depth of emotion felt through Hiranandani’s words. There was a subtle way that Hiranandani introduced the topics of change, race, religion, and even depression. They are all difficult subjects, and I’m surprised that I read about all of them in one book. At times, it was a little difficult to stomach, but when do I not cringe at conflict?
Change is hard for most people, let alone for young Sonia. I understand the importance of talking about race and religion, but I wondered if it could have been done in a different way. There are fine lines of acceptance, and I wonder why everyone at the school had to be on that same page. Has it been so long since I was in school, that I no longer remember how kids that age act?
One of the things that I loved about The Whole Story of Half a Girl was the dialogue and the relationships. It pulled me into the world with an effortless ease. I was invested in Sonia, as well as the rest of her family. I became a part of the family, suffering like the rest of them.
The Whole Story of Half a Girl was an endearing tale for everyone of all ages. Great book to open our eyes about identity and perception.