The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel follows Quijana Carillo, a twelve-year-old who just wants to ride bikes with her friends and talk about manatees with her grandma. But between dealing with a crush, worrying about why her little brother is changing in ways she doesn’t understand, and trying to figure out where exactly she fits in the world, Quijana has a lot on her plate.
Quijana is an American girl with an Anglo mother and a Guatemalan father. She was raised with her mother’s family and her Spanish isn’t great. She can barely speak with her abuela on the phone, but now some Carillo cousins have moved to town and her parents are planning a trip to Guatemala. Everything feels like it is changing too much for Quijana and she plans to do something about it.
I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy of this novel from NetGalley. Like Quijana, I have a Central American parent and a white American parent who studied Spanish. This was the first time I really got to see myself on the page. This book had relatable moments for me that I’ve never read about before, like feeling left out because your cousins can smoothly transition between languages while you’re stuck in just one and having your parents use Spanish when they don’t want you to understand. I’ve never been able to see myself in a character like this before.
Seeing myself on the page for the first time was both wonderful and frustrating because it brought up a lot of complicated feelings from childhood about identity, while also showing me that there is someone else in the world that felt those feelings, too. Being mixed puts you in a strange, in-between place where you are both, but feel like you are not enough of either. Balcárcel portrayed this really well with Quijana. The world wants to put her in boxes, but because she is mixed, she doesn’t fit quite right into any of them.
This book stars a realistic twelve-year-old and Balcárcel made me feel everything that Quijana felt. This book also has a fun cast of characters that feel fleshed out and all have lives outside of the main character. Every character feels imbued with life. And in the back of the novel there are some extras, like Quijana’s poem for class, directions for Aunt Jess’s game, and excerpts from Grandma Miller’s science notebook.
The Other Half of Happy comes out August 20th. Preorder now or request it at your local library!
Be sure to check out the other posts for The Other Half of Happy blog tour hosted by Sazón Book Tours!