Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Sonia Nadhamuni's father has just lost his job, and that means she can't go to her beloved private school with her best friend any more.  For the first time, Sonia is entering public, and for the first time is dealing with questions about what color she is.  Sonia struggles to figure out where she fits in, being half Indian and Jewish but not religious.  As Sonia's father sinks into depression, Sonia spends more and more time out of the house and with her cool new friend Kate.  Sometimes things just don't feel right to Sonia, but she not sure how to fix it.

Sonia is coming from a "hippy" school.  Very integrated, very creative and free-flowing - the teachers go by their first names, there are no grades, there's lots of doing and experiencing things.  When Sonia enters public school, she is unsurprisingly shocked at what she has to deal with that she never had to deal with before.  No one had ever asked her if she was Black before, and it wasn't something she had ever thought about.  Suddenly, Sonia is questioning who she is.  Besides being half Indian, her mother is Jewish, and although the family isn't religious, Sonia has always thought of herself as half Indian and half Jewish.  Now she has to really think about what that means. 

Sonia gets pulled between two groups at school.  The first is a popular crowd.  The only girl Sonia really likes is Kate, the leader, who genuinely seems to like her too, but doesn't stand up for her when the other girls say mean things.  Sonia also is friends with one of the few Black students at her school, Alisha, who likes to write.  Sonia ends up pushing Alisha away in favor of spending time with Kate, who has cool parents and pretty clothes.  I liked that Sonia wasn't hanging out with the popular crowd just to be popular.  Kate really did seem like a nice person, and the two girls had a lot of fun together.  Kate was very encouraging of Sonia when they all tried out for cheerleading together.  Ultimately though, Kate wasn't a true friend.  A true friend wouldn't let other "friends" treat you badly, which Sonia eventually realizes.
Sonia's father's depression was a very interesting aspect of the story.  We have Sonia's coming-of-age story, and her identity struggles, but separate from that we have her struggle to understand what's happening to her father.  As her father falls deeper into depression, Sonia watches her father have a hard time getting out of bed, and experiences his sudden anger and sadness.  After he gets another job, Sonia assumes that everything will be back the way it was before, but then her father disappears.  It story doesn't get too in-depth on the topic of depression, but I thought that it was handled very well for a middle-grade book.  Depression is described as a sickness (which it is), and Sonia comes to understand that it doesn't just go away all at once.  It's something that her father constantly has to work on, and that he needs help with.

The Whole Story of Half a Girl comes out January 10, 2012.

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