Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Multi-Racial Read #18: The Other Half of My Heart

Minni's heart soared as the small plane's wheels lifted from the ground. She loved being up in the clouds with Keira, Mama and Daddy, the never-ending blue-gray ocean, and the rugged mountain peaks. Gliding, like a bird on the wind. 

Keira sank her nails into Minni's arm. It hurt, but Minni didn't pull away. It wasn't often that she got to be the brave one. 

I love it when an author's opening words draw me into a story; that was my experience when I began listening to Sundee Frazier's middle grade book, The Other Half of My Heart. 

Minni and Kiera are eleven-year-old "one-in-a-million twins." Their artist mother is black and their pilot father is white. As a  result, Minni's skin is "milky white" and Keira's is "cinnamon brown." Growing up in a small town in Washington state, the girls are used to the stares and questions they receive when their family is together. 

But their cocooned life changes when their black grandmother insists they both participate in the Black Pearls of America beauty pageant in North Carolina. While shopping for pageant dresses with their white grandmother, Kiera is treated like a second-class customer and told not to handle the dresses. Minni witnesses the clerk's rudeness, but doesn't come to her sister's defense. Later at the pageant, Minni is ostracized because of her skin color and for the first time experiences what it's like to be the one who is different than everyone else. The girls' close relationship is tested as each is pulled by new acquaintances and past loyalties.

Written from Minni's perspective, she longs to look more like her dark mother. One of my favorite lines is when Minni asks her mother "Am I just white? Or am I black too?" Her mother's answer includes this thoughtful response: "Your blackness is just hidden a little deeper--like a vein of gold running deep within the soil of your soul." (p. 7)

I also appreciated the multi-generational flavor which Frazier brings to this contemporary story. Despite their grandmother's generosity in bringing the girls to North Carolina, both girls find her stuffy, domineering, and critical. After the pageant is over, Minni gets up the nerve to ask her why she's always trying to change her sister's appearance so that she would look less dark (straightening Keira's hair, encouraging her not to allow her skin to darken in the sun). When her grandmother reveals her own painful childhood experiences of racial prejudice, Minni understands a part of her family's history that puts her grandmother's life into historical perspective.  

A fellow writer recommended Frazier's book to me because of my own WIP, Half-Truths which centers on the relationship between a light-skinned teen and her white cousin. My friend's recommendation was on the money: not only is The Other Half of My Heart (Delacorte Press, Random House, Inc. 2010) a well-written book for girls, it also provides thought-provoking insights into both girls' struggles with racial identity.

Come back next week when Sundee answers some questions about herself and her inspiration for this book. You will also have the chance to win a personally autographed copy of a book that you, or a young girl in your life, will love. 

13 comments:

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Wow, Carol, this book was right up your alley and I'm sure it gave you great insight into your WIP. Your great review prompts me to put it on my own to-read list!

Carol Baldwin said...

You would like it, LInda!

Rosi said...

Thanks for telling me about this one, Carol. I will definitely be checking it out. It sound fascinating.

Ann Eisenstein said...

I love being drawn in right away, too, Carol. And the opening of this book coupled with your review has done that! Can't wait to read it! Thanks for sharing.

Carol Baldwin said...

Wait until next week, Rosi, when I'll be giving away a copy! Yes, an excellent read.

Carol Baldwin said...

You won't be disappointed, Ann!

sheri levy said...

How exciting you got Sundee to join your blog!! One of my favorite reads!!Did it help your WIP?

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Sheri, I believe it will!

Gail Hurlburt said...

This book sounds like a very good read and one that is relevant to our times. Thanks for sharing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Gail, it is!

Linda A. said...

Carol,
This sounds like a great story and hearing from the author is like the icing on the cake.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. Stop by next week when I'll be giving it away!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Super intriguing! Lots of tension build right into the family situation.

I'm impressed with the depth of the stories you are finding on racial concerns, Carol. And North Carolina seems to be the "go to" setting.