Red, White, and Whole, written by Rajani LaRocca, is a fantastic middle grade novel written in verse. After attending a talk by Rajani I was keen to read one of her recent books and I was absolutely blown away by it. I read it in two straight sittings and found it not only to be beautifully written, compelling, and very emotive, but fascinating too.
The premise of the story focuses on an Indian girl growing up in America, torn between two very different worlds. School and home, each requiring different behavior codes and different sides to a personality. This conflict gives the main character lots of internal turmoil and when she is faced with a family crisis, the rising conflict is brought to a head.
Like my children, the author Rajani is a third culture kid and the conflicts for any child in that situation are real and potent. Despite the cultural differences the main character faces to my children, many of the emotions she expressed were familiar. I know this book would resonate with many other kids living two different lives, as it did with mine too. Calum, aged 10, found this book captivating. I wasn’t sure he would enjoy the novel’s style at first as it was written in verse but once he had read a few chapters he was hooked!
Rajani gives the main character, Reha, real agency throughout. Reha is a delightful character who the reader really feels for and is taken on an emotional journey with. Themes of immigration, racism, culture, ethnicity, family, school and loneliness are strong but there is one other theme that runs unexpectantly through the book: cancer.
The title refers in part to red and white blood cells and there is a fascinating look at their scientific roles throughout the book and what happens when they don’t function as they should. This gave the book an added interest for the reader from a biological perspective. But more than that it acted as a powerful tug towards family and in particular the role of mum. Admittedly, there were tears when reading this book and I challenge anyone to read it without then calling their mum up afterwards to tell them they love them!
Verse novels are becoming more and more common in children’s literature and although the idea of reading a book in verse may put some people off, I would love to highlight a few extra positives about them. They are often shorter than your typical novel. They are more lyrical and so a great way to expose children to poetic language in a more structured, narrative way. The chapters are often short snippets of a scene condensed down to its real essence, so they make their points quickly and powerfully. Do try them if you haven’t before as you may find them surprisingly rewarding.
I can highly recommend this one as a good one to start with!