The Other Half of Happy

Chronicle. Aug. 2019. 332p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452169989.
Gr 4-7–American-born 12-year-old Quijana lives in Texas and is the child of a Guatemalan father and a white mother. When Quijana starts sixth grade at a new school, her Spanish teacher mistakenly believes that Quijana is a native speaker. Spanish-speaking classmates call her a “coconut,” their slang term for a Latino person who “acts white.” Luckily, Quijana befriends Jayden and Zuri and quickly develops a crush on Jayden. Outside of school, Quijana struggles with her immediate and extended family. Her paternal family moves to the area, and Quijana’s parents pressure her to engage with her Guatemalan side; they want her to wear a handmade garment called a huipil, which her abuela gives her, and speak Spanish with her on the phone. Inspired by her choir class, Quijana secretly learns to play her father’s guitar, writing her own music instead of playing the Spanish songs he wants to teach her. The family grows concerned about her younger brother Memito, who may have autism, and her maternal grandmother, Grandma Miller, who lives in Florida and has cancer. When Quijana’s parents arrange a family trip to Guatemala over the holiday break, she feels overwhelmed by family expectations and secretly buys a bus ticket to Grandma Miller’s house. At its core, Balcárcel’s novel is a story of identity within one’s self and within a broader community. Quijana wants to embrace the pieces of her Guatemalan identity on her own terms and at her own pace, which gradually brings her closer to her family. Zuri and Jayden also navigate their cultural and sexual identities, respectively. Quijana struggles with being named after Don Quixote, perceiving him, and herself, as people who rarely succeed. The narrative moves at a quick and steady pace, leaving each component of the plot with a satisfying ending and believable loose ends.
VERDICT Balcárcel’s well-rounded characters, complex friendships, and nuanced family dynamics will resonate with many readers. This is a title that will remain relevant long past its publication date. A must-have for all library collections

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