The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani, 224 pages, Can be read in a few hours depending on your speed, Middle Grade
“I’m not sad. I’m not happy. I’m an alternate.”Sonia, p. 91
This is my second review of one of Hirandani’s books and, if it’s not clear, she has become a favorite author. The Whole Story of Half a Girl is Hiranandani’s first novel. Like her other stories, Hiranandani tackles a number of issues that I rarely (if ever) saw reflected in books I had as growing up.
The Whole Story of Half a Girl follows Sonia Nadhamuni—a half Indian, half Jewish 6th grader—as she deals with the consequences of her father losing his job. The first major impact is that she is forced to leave her beloved private elementary school and transfer to the local public school. The second is dealing with her father’s deepening depression. Both of these changes set off a series of events in which Sonia must now ask herself: Who do I want to be?
The story takes place within the span of a few months, but for someone so young, that feels like a lifetime. The main plot centers on Sonia learning the rules of her new school and, perhaps more importantly for a pre-teen, making new friends. But this proves to be more challenging than she expected. As someone who is not Black, but also not white, Sonia isn’t sure where she belongs in a school that feels more segregated than her prior one. This conflict of belonging impacts her sense of self in multiple ways, including raising questions about her racial and religious identity.
Adding to her confusion is that the two friends she makes early on—Alisha and Kate—could not be any more different and seem to want to be friends with her for different reasons. Over the course of the book, it is the juggling and navigating of these friendships that highlight the questions Sonia asks of herself and is struggling to answer.
Hiranandani does an excellent job showing how one key change in our lives can lead to so much upheaval and how you’re never too young to ask the big questions, especially when it comes to how you see yourself and how you want others to see you. I also appreciated that she brought in some very pointed conversations about mental health and depression. This is a topic many do not discuss openly, particularly in Indian cultures, and it was refreshing to see it included with such care. It is not until later in the book that you realize how much of the plot is tinged by Sonia’s father’s depression, an aspect of depression that is very true to life.
I was also really surprised by the role shoes played in this book. They only come up a few times, and yet they were such an interesting object to use to highlight Sonia’s struggle to define herself.In sum, it’s been fun reading Hiranandani’s latest and first book only a month or so apart. I am always fascinated by how well authors manage to write about similar topics and themes and yet offer completely different stories. I look forward to reading whatever she puts out next!