The Other Half of Happy

Finished The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Twelve-year-old, bi-cultural Quijana likes her Anglo life just fine. Nevermind that her Spanish is shaky and she can’t talk with her abuela. When her Latino relatives show up and prompt her parents to plan a trip to Guatemala, Quijana plans an escape. She’s sure that being half makes her happy.

Chronicle brings us poet Rebecca Balcárcel’s middle grade novel about a biracial girl who’s navigating between the Anglo and Guatemalan sides of her family, a burgeoning crush and a cool new friend, and trying to figure out what’s going on with her little brother, who is becoming remote and hard to reach, all while trying to determine just who she is.”

According to the synopsis, Rebecca Balcarcel is a poet. I didn’t know that before (my knowledge of poetry is really lacking) but it makes sense. She has a real command of language and every word is deliberate and perfect.

I absolutely loved this book. Quijana’s life is separated into two parts, and she’s definitely closer to her Anglo side than her Guatemalan one (she barely speaks any Spanish—we have basically the same grasp, which is only a handful of words—and she’s almost embarrassed by her dad). It’s not like she’s ashamed of being biracial but she definitely prefers her white grandmother and English to her dad’s family. (Although a big part of that is the fact that she literally doesn’t speak their language.)

I also loved the subplot about her brother. He seems to be on the spectrum somewhere, but there are other clues that it doesn’t really fit, either. Quijana’s really close to him and she clearly just wants to be able to fix it for him, but there’s no way to. (I love her relationship with everyone in her family. One thing middlegrade does better than YA is feature these great family relationships. And I love everyone in The Other Half of Happy.)

This is a fantastic story and I’m so glad I saw it at ALA. Highly recommended.

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