Cover Image: The Other Half of Happy

The Other Half of Happy

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Member Reviews

There is so much to love about THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY by the incredibly talented Rebecca Balcárcel. It's lyrical, it's deep, it's highly relevant, and most of all, it's REAL. The characters all pop to life and become part of the readers' extended friend or family group. We feel invested in these people and we FEEL for them.

Reading THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY took me through all the feels from flashing back to my own middle school days, to teaching and parenting kids that age, to losing a loved one. Main character Quijana is an extraordinary young lady, and extraordinarily smart, and I longed for her to realize it.  Somehow, I think one day she will. I know I'll keep thinking about her and the rest of the group (and can't stop, really).

There were many quotables in the book, but I share only a few that illustrate all the different ways Balcárcel is an outstanding writer:

"The English r isn't fancy, but it's like a go-to pair of white socks, matching every word I need.  The Spanish rrr is orange with pink dots, blinged-out with rhinestones and ribbons."

"Her shine doesn't take away from yours."

"Saturday stretches out in all directions, my unexplored island."

"Everything's okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

It's funny, but sometimes a book comes to you in a backdoor way.  I first met the author at WORDfest in March of this year, when she conducted an interview with me. She calmed my nerves and was delightful to talk to, and at the Lone Star table, she mentioned her book and showed me the cover -- and of course, I went nuts over it.  Sometimes, you just know a book is going to be next level, and so I made a point to find Rebecca again at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in April. I got my signed copy and photo, of course, and the beautiful book taunted me -- which led to emails, which led to a book blog tour, which led to my taking this book across an ocean so that I could get it read, which led to my falling in love with people who exist only between pages of a book, and I miss them so much.

I highly recommend THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY.  It speaks important messages that we all need to hear and absorb and ponder as part of our shared experience in this world. There truly is something for every reader and readers of every age in this book.
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When you are half white and half of any other recognizable people, you will have a hard time fitting in in America. You are walking that line of two world. You want to be "normal", you want to be accepted by the other "normal" children.

Quijana is half American and half Guatemalan. Her parents did not speak Spanish to her, because they wanted her to fit in. And that was ok, for a while, until it wasn't, and she realized she could not speak to any of her Guatemalan relatives, and she felt left out, so much, that she decided she did not want to go to Guatemala at all.

This would be just a typical middle-school book about friendship, except it isn't. It is a story of being between two worlds. Of friends that also don't quite fit in, but fit in with themselves.

Lovely book. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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In our culture, there's this push for imigrants to assimilate. This can leave them and their children in a cultural limbo, not really fitting in with the general public but clearly isolated from their own family. Add in general struggles to fit in when you're in your middle school years, family with health problems, the worries that can come along with having a neuro-atypical sibling and you have a fair amount to explore in this book. Perhaps, one might argue, too much, especially when you add in first crushes and increasingly complex lies. This is not a comfortable read and doesn't resolve in neat and tidy ways. But it has a ring of truth that will resonate with middle graders.
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I hadn't read middle grade books in years, I don't really know why, and I regret it, because I could've read so many good books just like this one. I mainly picked up this book because it is written by a latinx author, without reading the synopsis and I'm glad I did it.
In the book we follow Quijana who is starting classes in a new school, but not only that her cousins from Guatemala moved in her town and now her Dad who is Guatemalan is all about remembering what it felt like when he was young and living in Guatemala, he's using Spanish more and Quijana can't understand.
The writing was easy to read, it flowed like water and that made me devour the book in just a couple days. The pacing was good, and I think that's perfect for children because it sucks your attention and doesn't let go.
The book is a more character driven type of book than a plot driven one. What really matters in this book is character development and feelings, and I personally love it because is good to remember books by their characters instead of their stories.
The plot is about Quijana changing, figuring out how to feel happy with herself again and finding out what's her place with her friends, her family and and who she's at this time.
Quijana isn't the typical soon to be teenager, she feels torn between two cultures and is just starting to realize that she can be more than just American, that she does not have to choose what to be. What I liked the more of her is her courage and determination because even when she's afraid or insecure she managed to stay true to herself and accomplish what she wants. She can be a little annoying and sometimes she even feels rude (when she's talking to her parents) and I see how that can bother some readers but reading that reminded me that I used to be the same.
Quijana's das was my favorite character, he reminded me of my papi. He's so strong but he's also sensitive, he's strict but knows how to have fun. I admired how calm he acted when things go wrong and how he doesn't hide being sad. He's the one that gives the warmth to the book, he also helped me at understanding my dad better.
Zuri and Jayden are the best. I loved Zuri and how sassy she is, every time she appeared and Jayden is the best friend. They are just what Qui needs.
Reading the family dynamics reminded me of my own family, all the craziness and the warmth characteristic of latinx families. The relationship between Qui, Memito is also a highlight. And all the Carrillos. It's amazing reading a book where the family isn't broken or what triggers the plot.
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I can't wait to go get a physical copy of this book for my daughter. This is a lovely book about what it is like to live as a young person in a society where half of your ancestry is looked down on and the other half ignored because of the "obvious" half. It is heart-felt and realistically told from the perspective of a child. Really well written and so vital to the current social climate.
Well done! Highly recommend.

#TheOtherHalfOfHappy #NetGalley #ChronicleBooks
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When I first saw the cover of The Other Side of Happy (let’s be real, the cover is so cute!) and read the blurb I was hooked and knew that this was a story I would enjoy. What I wasn’t prepared for was getting completely swept up in Quijana’s story and having it pull at my heartstrings many times, nor the delight I felt in recognizing so many of the quirks and aspects of growing up bi-culturally on the page. Balcárcel has created a book that beautifully depicts what it’s like to grow up bi-culturally, especially during middle school, a time you are already grappling with new social complexities and trying to figure out who you are. It is a book that younger and older audiences alike will both enjoy, but above all, is a present to the kids who grew up or are growing up between worlds who at one point have felt that they are not enough. 

Summary: Twelve-year-old, bi-cultural Quijana likes her Anglo life just fine. Nevermind that her Spanish is shaky and she can’t talk with her abuela. When her Latino relatives show up and prompt her parents to plan a trip to Guatemala, Quijana plans an escape. She’s sure that being half makes her happy.

Chronicle brings us poet Rebecca Balcárcel's middle grade novel about a biracial girl who's navigating between the Anglo and Guatemalan sides of her family, a burgeoning crush and a cool new friend, and trying to figure out what's going on with her little brother, who is becoming remote and hard to reach, all while trying to determine just who she is. 

The Other Half of Happy starts off as Quijana is preparing to start the seventh grade in Texas, where she lives with her mother who is Anglo, her father, an immigrant from Guatemala, and her younger brother Memito. There is a lot going on from the very beginning: Her burgeoning friendship and romantic feelings for a fellow classmate, her Guatemalan cousins moving to Texas, and her father’s announcement of an upcoming family trip to Guatemala which Quijana is dreading as she doesn’t speak Spanish and feels like she wouldn’t fit in. 

The arrival of her Guatemalan cousins and her father’s renewed interest in Guatemala throws Quijana’s life into flux. Not only is she already attempting to navigate the new social waters in middle school (and perhaps a new crush), now she also trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in, particularly under her father’s constant enthusiasm for her to learn Spanish and embrace her Guatemalan heritage; an image of the Latina daughter that she feels like she cannot live up to. Balcárcel has a keen eye for the deep nostalgia that marks the immigrant experience and how this is passed on and observed by their children. She depicts this through so many precise details and moments sprinkled into Quijana’s story that will feel familiar to anyone who grew up bi-culturally. Moments like having to translate your parent’s heavily accented English, not wanting to be embarrassed by “standing out” in the classroom, having a hard to pronounce name, or wishing you could bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school like the other kids. These and countless other moments in the story speak to Balcárcel’s sharp eye and compassionate writing. She negotiates the many identities that Quijana juggles with a deft hand that will have the reader right next to Qui on her emotional rollercoaster ride throughout the book.

In addition to Quijana’s plotting to avoid her family’s vacation to Guatemala and her conflicts about not feeling ‘Latina enough’ there are many subplots and narrative threads that Balcárcel weaves throughout the story.  All of these threads work in tandem to bring the emotional complexities of growing up to vividly onto the page. I won’t spoil them here (some of them made me tear up while I was reading on the train!) but did want to point out one specific thread which absolutely filled my heart and is worth highlighting for how well it is written throughout the book. Quijana’s relationship with her little brother Memito is absolutely heart-warming to read. Memito processes stimuli and communicates differently from other children his age. His behavior changes throughout the book much the consternation of his family who is unable to pinpoint what is “wrong” with him. Through all this Quijana loves, takes care of, and supports her brother. Balcárcel herself is a mother to a child with autism which I believe lends to this being one of the best and most compassionate depictions of autism I have ever read in fiction and for this reason alone I am so happy to have picked up this book. 

I admit I am a little biased when it comes to loving this book. There are so many little details that I personally connected with  and was delighted to find on the page. Qui and I both have guitar-playing, Don Quijote-loving dads. We both went to school in Texas and I loved the Texanism sprinkled in the dialogue and I loved the accurate and loving depiction of autism in the book. But beyond these personal attachments, it is a truly beautiful and affirming book that nonetheless does not shy away from fully depicting the heartbreaking and sometimes messy realities of a mixed family and identity. It is a book that will speak to older readers and younger readers alike, but especially to those who, like Qui, sometimes need to be reminded that they are enough, just the way they are.
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Quijana is a 12-year-old girl growing up in Texas with her family, a Guatemalan father and American mother. Coincidentally, I also grew up with a Guatemalan father and American mother, and therefore felt instantly compelled to read this story. The novel takes us inside Quijana's world, where she walks a careful balance between her two cultures while navigating school, family and friends. She is devoted to her family, especially to her little brother Memito, yet is starting to assert her independence outside the home. 

The author expertly captures the confusion and angst that often goes along with growing up biracial. Quijana feels more comfortable with the American culture that she grew up with, and struggles with both the Spanish language connecting with her Guatemalan heritage. She loves her father and wants to honor his heritage, but finds it hard to understand when she's never been to Guatemala nor speaks the language. Her feelings of not being enough of either culture are palpable, and Balcarcel's beautiful prose brilliantly captures this internal tug-of-war.

I love the relationship Quijana has with her father, from bonding over guitars and music to stories of his boyhood in Guatemala. I don't often cry while reading, but some of his tales were so poignantly familiar to the ones my dad told me as a girl, I could't help but shed a tear or two. They go through the usual father-daughter disagreements, and sometimes struggle to understand each other's point of view, but their love for each other keeps the family together through challenges they face.

The book deals with a few serious issues, including illness and developmental delays, but does so in an age-appropriate way. I like that the ending doesn't resolve everything neatly, but gives an uplifting conclusion to one chapter of Quijana's life. I highly recommend this book to children of all ages (and adults as well), who will find a relatable story of a girl growing up and finding herself both within her family and among her peers. I hope to read more from this author in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for this ARC.
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I absolutely loved this book! I've never gotten to see myself on the page like this before! Quijana is a realistic twelve-year-old because I remember feeling exactly the way she did about certain situations when I was her age. This book did a very good job of portraying how confusing your identity can be when you are mixed.
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Unfortunately, I didn't find this one particularly engaging. I'm grateful for the ARC, but will not be reviewing on Goodreads or on my blog.
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This book is about 12 year old Quijana who lives with her Guatemalan dad and her American mom and her little brother who struggles with sounds and sensations.  She is also struggling a bit-her dad wants to share pieces of his culture that are meaningful to him, and Quijana really isn't interested.  She wants to be a regular American kid and it really bugs her that people expect her to speak better Spanish (she looks Hispanic, like her dad) and enjoy her big Spanish speaking family.  I think a lot of kids will identify with Quijana.
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The Other Half of Happy is an excellent exploration of friendship and identity. Balcarcel expertly portrays how overwhelmed adolescents can often feel with myriad things happening around them. She also perfectly covers how the typical middle grade search for identity is complicated among bicultural students. I highly recommend this book for all libraries and classrooms. It can be used as a starting point for many meaningful discussions.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for en eARC of this book.

This book is packed with many important topics, including family, culture, loss and neurodiversity. Although it’s very well, and each subplot could be a book by itself, it personally felt a bit overwhelming with all the issues coming at me. I would definitely still recommend it.
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I wanted to like this so much more than I did.  It features a half Guatemalan girl who is going to my beloved Lake Atitlan.  But alas, it was longer than I thought it should be and there was too much going on.
The main plot involved Quijana's attempt to get out of going to Guatemala for Christmas.  She knows very little Spanish and knows she will be overwhelmed and embarrassed.  Subplots include: her grandmother's battle with cancer, the struggle to figure out what might be wrong with her younger brother, her first crush, a major argument with her dad.  It was all a bit much - with so many threads I found it hard to care about the main thread I guess.  
I am not sure where in Texas they were flying from to get to Guatemala but 7 hours?  It takes 2 1/2 hours from Miami...
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Gorgeous story of a girl growing up and trying to make a way for herself. I think a lot of readers will be able to identify with her, and those who can't will be able to empathize with her struggles for identity. This is a must read for middle grade kids who need to learn about the sacrifices immigrants make to get here.
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A wonderfully written middle-grade novel that explores cultural identity and self-belonging.

Twelve-year-old, Quijana Carillo, struggles to find a balance between her Guatemalan and American identity while navigating through middle school, boys, and family issues. Although her father is from Guatemala and is proud of his cultural heritage, Quijana identifies more as American and thus often alienates herself from the Guatemalan side of the family due to her limited Spanish vocabulary and disinterest in learning the culture.

This book brought up a lot of topics- cultural identity, racism, cancer, and autism to name a few. There was a lot going on and at times it seemed as if these topics were just brushed on and had very little depth to them. Another issue I had was the MC, Quijana. While I understand that she's not perfect, she comes across as selfish and stubborn at times. She doesn't acknowledge nor consider other people's perspectives, is rude, and makes impulsive decisions that hurt others. Despite this, however, Quijana manages to shine in some scenes though I really liked her dad because of his compassion and dedication to his family. In fact, all the characters are pretty great- especially Grandma Miller. The relationships are well developed and Balcarcel masterfully weaves in Guatemalan song and poetry throughout the novel.

Overall, not a bad novel- though I'm not sure it would necessarily appeal to the middle school demographic I can see it be discussed in a classroom or a book club for its notable themes.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Chronicle Books publishers for providing a free ARC
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For the past several years, I am always surprised by the topics that middle grade writers bravely discuss.  This book is no exception.  At the heart of this book, the main character Quijana is struggling with her Spanish identity.  However, the author brilliantly weaves in several other problems that would make for excellent discussion in a book club or classroom.  I would recommend this book for students fifth grade and above.
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Wow, that was really good! A middle school girl who is half Guatemalan and half Caucasian, but doesn't feel like she belongs in either world because she doesn't speak Spanish, but she doesn't look white. This is a story of how she figures out who she is and where she belongs, in the midst of some normal middle school angst, but also some hard life lessons that come her way. The story is told from her point of view so you really get to see her struggle and appreciate her growth. Yes, she makes some pretty poor decisions, but part of that is normal tween/teen behavior when it's hard for a child to see anything from a point of view that is not theirs. The good news is that she has an amazing group of people behind her, including her family and her best friends, and they love her for who she is, flaws and all, and she is able to come to that realization. I love her grandmother and her words of wisdom, the quotes from Don Quixote (yes, that book is now moving up in my queue), her father's kindness, her mother's practical sense, the way she loves her baby brother, and the crew who are her Guatemalan relatives. I think this book should be in all middle school libraries, but I think maybe they should think about some alternative covers. While I think the cover is pretty attractive for me, I don't know if middle schoolers would be drawn to it. 

I'd like to thank NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I received an arc of this book from netgalley in exchange for a honest review. 

This book just didn't stick out to me. There were a lot of things that just seemed to take away from the main point of the book, and the cover seems kind of boring, if I picked it up at the library I would probably just put it back. On the other hand, I thought it was well paced and there was a good conclusion to the story.
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This past weekend I got to read  #TheOtherHalfOfHappy , the debut novel of Rebecca Balcarcel. This middle grade fiction follows Quijana, a new seventh-grader who is at the point of trying to figure out who she is, where she fits, and who she wants to be. You see Quijana grapple with her two sides, her Guatemalan side and her American side. She struggles with not being “Latina” enough and feeling like she’s not the daughter her dad wants, but she also struggles to fit in and wishes at times that she was more normal. 

Reading this novel really takes you back to being 12 or 13 and grappling with the person you were trying to be. Is fitting in really that important? Is love more important than friendship? Do I have to be either-or? Can I be both-and? While reading you begin to root for Quijana, as you see her maturity in how she cares for her little brother and her grandmother, and her childishness as she navigates the difficulties of love, language, and ultimately identity. If you’re a parent of a young teen or just an adult reader, like myself, who enjoys middle grade fiction, put this on your list to pick up when it comes out on August 1!
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A big thank you to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for sending me an advanced e-copy of “The Other Half of Happy” in exchange for my review. There are many things I really liked about this book, and a few things that I did not.

To begin with, I loved almost all the characters in this story. I especially loved the father and how optimistic he is and tries to keep his family on track and bonds with is children. I also loved the mother’s character for being the more grounded one and looking for solutions to fix the problems. Jayden in Zuri are also wonderful friends to Quijana. Most of the characters are very dynamic and lovable and you instantly root for them. The author progresses with the storyline so smoothly that even though there is drama, it is not over dramatic. There is no unnecessary jealousy between the friendships, hardly any hostility between characters. Everybody genuinely loves one another, even if they have family issues. The author has also remarkably portrayed that no matter how many hurdles life throws as you, life keeps going, and you need to look forward to each day.

Grandmother Miller is one of my favorite characters, and I love some of the quotes she imparts, such as: “Figure out what makes you amazing” and “Embrace the adventure”. One of my favorite lines is when she tells Quijana:

“You’ll flourish in your life, that’s certain. But you’ll grieve, too. And not just for me. All your life, you’ll be letting go of things. The secret is to relish the moments as they happen, but let endings happen, too.”

The author has also thrown in wonderful quotations from Cervantes “Don Quixote”, which makes me want to pick up the book from my bookshelf and read it.

My main problem was Quijana’s character at certain parts. She appeared to be way too selfish at certain pivotal scenes and thinking only about herself. Even when her Grandmother passes away, all Quijana thinks of if she was about to fill out the bus form. She acts way to impulsive and stubborn and does not listen to others at times. Also, I felt like the author tried to highlight way too many issues in one book itself. One chapter talks about autism, another about cancer, then about a gay character coming out, then one about racism etc. Moreover, I felt that the author just touched the surface of these issues without really dwelling into it. While I agree that these are relevant topics, I think it was just too much in one book. As they say, sometimes less is more.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think this is a charming book and there are some parts which are truly beautiful. If the author has just made Quijana’s character less self-centered and annoying, I would have really enjoyed reading it. Overall, “The Other Half of Happy” is still a fun, breezy read, and I would give it a rating of 3.75 out of 5 stars.
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