I picked up Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata from the library on a whim when I saw that part of the book was set in Kazakhstan. A quick glance told me that it would fit this project, but I didn’t take all that much time to mull over whether it would be a good fit. (I’m a small part Kazakh, and it’s a part of my heritage and history that I want to know more about than I do.) The book turned out to be interesting to me in all sorts of ways beyond just that.
Kadohata tackles adoption from foreign countries in all the hard ways in this novel. She presents characters with flaws, major ones, that are still sympathetic and have the reader wanting everything to turn out alright for them. Almost ever single character in the book is likable in some way, and I really appreciated that she managed to make some of the characters be at odds to each other and still likable.
I also loved that the novel had strong positive representations of mental health care (not as infallible but as useful), adoption (which I already mentioned, but it bears repeating), and unconventional families. I need to see more of all of these in literature.
On top of being a good look into a hard topic, Half a World Away is beautifully written with real sounding dialogue and interesting descriptions of the world. It’s a book that I definitely think will merit several re-reads to catch details that I missed before. The emotional arcs of the characters were fascinating, and there was a lot going on in a small amount of space.
Reading Level: late-elementary through middle school, could definitely be brought back in higher levels, but high schoolers might not engage with it well because the protagonist is “too young”
Pair With: narratives about immigration and adoption