Seventh-grader Quijana is half-Guatemalan and half-American, but has always identified more with her American half. She never learned Spanish; something she didn’t think about until her Guatemalan relatives move to her family’s Texas town, and when Latinx kids at her new middle school call her an imposter or “coconut” – white on the inside – for having a Latinx name but not embracing the heritage. Her father wants to take the family – Quijana, her parents, and her 3-year-old brother, Memito – to Guatemala over winter break but Quijana has no interest in going and plans to take a bus to Florida to spend time with her mother’s mother, who’s undergoing cancer treatment. She plans to raise the money for the bus ticket by selling a traditional Guatemalan garment, a huipil, gifted by her father’s mother. Narrated in the first person by Quijana, The Other Half of Happy examines identity, first crushes, friendship, and family relationships. Quijana’s biracial identity clearly comes through as the story develops, and the characters are all multidimensional, realized people. Rebecca Balcárcel makes Quijana incredibly believable: she’s taking on an incredible amount of stress on the home front, while working through school relationships and discovering herself. Introspective and always honest, The Other Half of Happy is a brilliant book about cultural identity and being a tween. Back matter includes quotes from Quijana’s grandmother, from Don Quixote, poems, a game, and notes from Quijana’s grandmother’s science notebook; there’s also a discussion guide. Consider this one for your Oceans of Possibilities book lists and discussion groups.
The Other Half of Happy has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. Visit Rebecca Balcárcel’s author webpage to sign up for a newsletter and to learn more about her books.