Sonia is half Indian and half Jewish, but that has never really seemed to matter. At Community, all of the kids in her class are unique, and their teacher - Jack - makes a point of teaching them about all different cultures. But Sonia won't be going to Community any more. Her dad has lost his job, and she will be starting 6th grade at the public middle school.
At her new school, everything is different. Her skin is too dark for some kids, and too light for others. She dresses all wrong, brings the wrong food for lunch, and can't even make the cheerleading team - even though she's definitely better than some of the girls on the squad. On top of all of that, her father is becoming seriously depressed since he still hasn't found a new job. But when Sonia starts hanging out with Kate, it seems like everything is going to change for the better.
The Whole Story of Half a Girl is 100% wonderful. I mean seriously, completely wonderful. This is Veera Hiranandani's first novel, and she needs to write another pretty much immediately.
This is the second middle grade novel featuring an Indian main character that I've read this week, and I hope that Indian culture is slowly becoming more of a trend in MG/YA lit. That being said, I would have loved to have gotten more details about what makes Indian culture unique and different. Sonia has to tell a kid at her new school that her father doesn't wear a turbin, or a feathered headdress for that matter, but other than a brief mention of a family trip to Bombay and a beautiful Indian dress, she really doesn't elaborate on that part of her background. Sonia is also half Jewish, although her mom makes a point of saying that Judaism is a religion, not an ethnicity, so she can't actually be "half" Jewish. As Sonia's mother isn't particularly religious, Sonia herself has received little exposure to Jewish customs, so readers hoping for a mini-lesson on Judaism may be disappointed.
Now I know I'm starting to sound a little negative, but remember what I said: 100% wonderful. Every character is written so realistically, it wouldn't be surprising if Sonia's story turned out to be nonfiction. This could be partially due to the fact that the main character is partly based on Hiranandani's own experiences growing up half Indian, half Jewish, and not feeling like she really fit in anywhere.
One of my favorite aspects of the book was the characterization of the "antagonist." I'm not even sure if I can call Kate an antagonist, because I think that she really did mean well. Kate was the queen bee of the 6th grade girls, and she wanted to be friends with Sonia. But becoming Kate's friend meant some changes for Sonia - changes in clothing, hobbies, lunch food... She even had Sonia lying to her own family. But seriously, I liked Kate. And I didn't see Sonia as weak or a liar or anything like that when she was with Kate. They were both just 6th grade girls, trying to figure out where they fit in to the world. And their story didn't need any super mean girls, or paranormal activity, or deep romantic love, because 6th grade is challenging enough without any of that extra stuff.
The other part of the story revolved around Sonia's father, who sank into a deep depression after being out of work for several months. When he actually went missing, their entire family was forced to take a step back and re-evaluate what was really important in their lives. This part of the plot was written so realistically, I think it could be a true source of comfort for other children and teens who have a parent going through depression.
If you're a fan of extremely well-written contemporary fiction, you are going to love The Whole Story of Half a Girl. I would be particularly excited to recommend this book to middle grade girls who are struggling to fit in.
"...where were you supposed to sit if you were too dark to be white and too light to be black?"
"I thought she liked me because I was different, but maybe she just liked me because she thought she could make me the same."