For Sonia Nadhamuni, life is pretty good until her dad loses his job. She’s pulled out of her tiny private school and tossed into a public middle school where kids question her half-Indian, half-Jewish heritage. As Sonia tries to navigate the complicated world of popular kids and unpopular kids, she struggles to decipher where her true friends lie. Things aren’t great at home, either–with her dad out of work, the family has new challenges to face.
Veera Hiranandani has crafted a coming-of-age novel for the middle grade reader that is full of sharp observations about cultural identity and the inherent awkwardness of adolescence. Sonia is a character who is grappling with adult issues while still in the late stages of childhood. As she works to understand her own cultural identity, her dad’s clinical depression, and how she is seen by her predominantly white classmates, the reader is treated to multifaceted characters, gentle humor, and keen observations about life in middle school.
What could easily be an “issue” novel in another author’s hands never crosses into that territory here. In fact, Girl is careful to never offer tidy solutions or compartmentalize its characters or their situations. Instead, Hiranandani allows Sonia to be original and observant, creating a depth that is so often lacking in books for middle-grade readers. This book is not always easy to read–it allows Sonia’s life to get messy without offering really satisfying solutions–but the richness of the writing and the characters make it a book which one cannot put down.
Highly, highly recommended to readers of MG and YA alike. This is an important book featuring a smart, strong female of color. Hiranandani is an author to watch. The book is out now.
The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.