Summary: Red, White, and Whole
Red, White, and Whole is Rajani LaRocca’s newest middle-grade verse novel. The year is 1983 and 13-year-old Reha is caught between two cultures: her Indian family and community at home; and the all-American experience at school and with her white “school best friend.” But it’s not all rosy. Her mother doesn’t approve of Reha acting more American than Indian. She makes all of Reha’s clothes herself, and is upset when Reha says she would like to go to the school dance.
Reha is understandably frustrated at her mother’s lack of understanding, but she’s about to have more problems. Her mom is diagnosed with leukemia and Reha’s life is turned upside down. Between school, family issues, and navigating her affection for a boy in her neighborhood, Reha has her plate full.
Ah, how I loved this book. ADORED IT. Have I mentioned it’s a novel in verse? I say that again because it’s completely immersive — unlike some verse novels. Many novels in verse just seem to me like incomplete prose (sorry), but there’s something poetic and yet so full about the way Rajani LaRocca tells this story. I feel everything Reha feels, the fear, the worry, the frustration with restrictions, and yearning to be whole.
This book also celebrates Indian culture and Reha’s heritage, including her parents and their story of immigration, as well as Indian food and community. I don’t know a ton about the eighties, but if you grew up in the eighties, or love references to the eighties, this book will sing to your heart. From mixtapes to MTv to Cyndi Lauper and much more! Reha’s affection for Pete and the wonderful, healthy female friendships in her life just warmed my heart.
Finally, this book feels the most to me like a mother-daughter love story. Reha and her mother bicker and disagree on culture and the way Reha wants to exist in this new foreign (to her parents) country, but which daughter and mother don’t understand this relationship? I just loved reading about them both; it was both heartbreaking and entirely affirming.
Overall: Red, White, and Whole
Red, White, and Whole is a heartwarming and heartbreaking verse novel about mothers and daughters, the eighties, and straddling two cultures. This moving middle-grade novel with a protagonist coming of age in the midst of a traumatic life experience will appeal both to younger and older readers between ages 10-14. If you enjoy verse novels about parental illness, family, friendships, and Indian culture, this is one you should not miss.
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I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read this book or any others by LaRocca? Which one is your favorite? Which other novels in verse are your favorite? I’m enjoying so many this year!