Review of Red, White, and Whole

Red, White, and Whole
by Rajani LaRocca
Middle School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    224 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-06-304742-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-304744-0    $9.99

It’s 1983, and thirteen-year-old Reha feels she has “two lives.” In one, she’s a serious student who tries to make her Indian immigrant parents proud but is seen as an outsider (who speaks “Indian”) at her predominantly white school. In her other life, Reha, who doesn’t actually speak her parents’ native languages, feels that “no matter where I go, / America or India, / I don’t quite fit.” These feelings intensify when her Amma (mother) is diagnosed with leukemia, goes through several rounds of chemotherapy, and, ultimately, succumbs to her illness. Composed of short, metaphor-rich poems, this verse novel weaves together complex narrative strands with sophistication. It does the double duty of giving voice to the hyphenated American experience and navigation of dual identities, while also representing the illness and loss of a parent with tenderness and fidelity to the stages of grief. Blood is a predominant metaphor, but it’s not off-putting. The “red, white, and whole” of the title refers to “whole blood…the precious river in our arteries, our veins, our hearts,” and represents both Amma’s illness and Reha’s more abstract yearning to belong wholly to one place. Give this emotionally powerful novel to immigrant, third-culture kids or anyone experiencing grief and loss.

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam
Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University and has a PhD in literary and cultural studies, with a specialization in contemporary postcolonial literature from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

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