I have read a ton of children’s novels in verse this year, and Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca is a standout. I loved this story about Reha, an Indian American child growing up in the 1980’s, dealing with feelings of confliction and her mother’s illness.

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The summary, from Amazon:

A heartbreakingly hopeful novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—but they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.

From Indies Introduce author Rajani LaRocca comes a radiant story about the ties that bind and how to go on in the face of unthinkable loss. This is the perfect next read for fans of Jasmine Warga and Thanhhà Lại.

Buy Red, White, and Whole here.

I really enjoyed this novel in verse. Reha was so easy to relate to. For instance, in the poem “Only”, I so understood how Reha felt about being an only child:

there is no sharing,
no shouting,
only seeming
the way they think I am.

Another standout poem for me was “Hot and Cold”, a poem about her parents’ different ways of expressing anger.

The 80’s references in Red, White, and Whole were fun. Sometimes with more “modern” historical fiction eras, the book can straddle the line between corny, nostalgic, and actually feeling like historical fiction. Red, White, and Whole felt very much like historical fiction to me but also like a timeless coming-of-age story.

Of course, this is a very heart-wrenching story. Reha feels she has a strained relationship with her Amma, but when she is diagnosed with leukemia, Reha wants nothing more than to be the perfect daughter for her. She also faces her fear of blood to do what she can to help her mother.

While I grew up some two decades later than Reha did and had a very different upbringing, the storyline of entering one’s teens while I loved one is in the hospital, potentially dying was so relatable. I also loved her relationship with Pete and her compassion for him while his parents divorced. This too was relatable for me. I had my first relationship around that age with a boy in a similar situation.

Overall, this was a great read that I think a lot of kids could relate to. I was gripped and read it in two sittings. I rate it 5 stars.

ind out more about how I rate books here.

Red, White, and WholeRed, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a poignant, lovely book told in prose. Loved the 80’s references and really related to a lot of Reha’s story.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Why does Reha feel conflicted?
  2. Does Reha really have a disconnected relationship with Amma?
  3. Have you had a loved one in the hospital? Was your experience similar to Reha’s? Talk about it if you feel comfortable.
  4. How are Reha’s friends supportive of her, and how is she a good friend to them?

Interested? Buy Red, White, and Whole.
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