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*The Whole Story of Half a Girl* by Veera Hiranandani - middle grades book review
The Whole Story of Half a Girl
by Veera Hiranandani
Ages 12-14 224 pages Delacorte January 2012 Hardcover    

Sonia Nadhamuni’s mother is Jewish, her father Indian. At her old private school, nobody cared. They had small classes, no grades, and an eclectic mix of personalities.

Now, Sonia’s father has lost his job and she must go to the local public middle school. She doesn’t know want to go, and when she gets there, she doesn’t know where she fits in. Is she black? White? Neither?

When a bubbly girl, Kate, sends her notes and wants to become her friend, Sonia isn’t sure she knows what to make of the situation. There’s another girl, Alisha, who wants to be a writer and whose personality fits Sonia’s, but she isn’t in the popular group.

Kate convinces Sonia to try out for cheerleading; it turns out that she is very good at the jumps and makes the squad as an alternate. The crowd that Kate hangs out in makes Sonia uncomfortable. Kate says nothing if other girls are nasty to Sonia, not like her old friends at her other school. Meanwhile, Alisha fades into the background of Sonia’s life.

At the same time Sonia is struggling with her place in her new school, her unemployed father falls into a deep depression. Although he eventually finds a job, the curtain of sadness never seems to leave him, and the stress on the family keeps building. At the story’s climax, a crisis with her father creates a very scary situation for her entire family. Sonia makes her decision about who she is going to be friends with and why.

Most middle-school girls will identify with the character of Sonia. Although many will not see themselves with such a striking mix in their family heritage, they will connect with her difficulties in fitting in and choosing friends. Unfortunately, Sonia’s family situation–especially the unemployment and the depression–are also becoming more common.

Hiranandani recognizes the additional stress felt by children who come from families of mixed heritage. Moreover, she takes a real life look at unemployment and depression and how it affects a family.

The characters in The Whole Story of Half a Girl are very well-developed. Even Kate the cheerleader possesses many good character traits, along with her flaws. Like Sonia, the reader doesn’t know whether to like her or not. Readers will find comfort in knowing that other families, even Kate’s, have problems.

The storyline engages the reader immediately. Sonia is a likeable character and her problems are unique enough to make them interesting, but also common enough to relate to. Difficult to put down at the climax, The Whole Story of Half a Girl puts the everyday problems of middle school into perspective–recognizing the overriding importance of family and true friendship.

The book sends a strong message to be true to yourself, accept other people’s differences and not conform to what other people expect you to be. Highly recommended.
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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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