#MMGM: Red White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca


An #ownvoices 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.


One thing that I love about novels in verse is the way they allow the reader to focus in on the character and his/her/their feelings.  While the setting usually takes a back seat, the focus on the character's thoughts and feelings makes the book come alive in an unusually powerful way.  In Red, White, and Whole, LaRocca shares Reha's story in just such a powerful way.  Reha's life in 1983 as the daughter of immigrant parents isn't an easy one.  She feels caught between her Indian-American side and her American side.  She often wants to be more like her private school friends.  Having grown up in the 1980s, it was fun to read about some of the things that Reha and her friends enjoyed such as watching MTV and listening to their favorite station on the radio.  I appreciated how that will help young readers understand the character and her desires to fit in better.  I also enjoyed reading about the Indian traditions and foods that Reha enjoys with her family.  The most powerful part of the story is what happens after Reha's mother is diagnosed with leukemia.  I found myself tearing up as Reha faces changes in her life that she never expected or wanted. I can easily understand how this lovely book won a Newbery Honor Award.  A beautiful story combined with lovely writing and a thematically powerful character made for a great reading experience.  I look forward to book talking this one with my students.


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