Half a World Away
I can't think of another book about adopting a baby from a foreign country from the point of view of a middle grade child, or another book about a middle grade child adopted from another country who is not settling in well. Kadohata is an effective writer, and I did get sucked into this. The descriptions of the process and of traveling to another country were especially interesting.
The narrative is very well written and easy to follow. Jaden's thoughts are fascinating and captivating, and will keep young readers turning the pages. The tension between Jaden and his parents will keep adult readers wondering what's going to happen next. You'll feel like you're actually there, in the wilderness of Kazakhstan with Jaden, watching the world move by in front of your eyes as you try to cope with all the changes happening so very fast in his life.
What I loved:
The protagonist, Jaden. There were so many times while reading this book that I surprise-laughed, because of the sheer strangeness of this boy. He is so weird, so awkward, and kind of an awful person. There's a lot wrong with this boy's head, simply meaning that he has a lot of mental health and social issues. I am not an expert, and I'm not the author, so I won't be diagnosing Jaden. Regardless, Jaden has some issues, and he isn't shy about them. The author isn't shy about being up front with his flaws. You really get to see inside the head of a kid who is adopted and realize where a lot of his problems come from. I loved that.
Jaden's immediate attachment to Dimash. That's how kids make friends. There is just something that clicks in between them, and a connection is made. Jaden responded to that connection. It's possibly the only time he's ever done that with another kid, even though Dimash is much younger than him.
The ending. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say that it was everything I was hoping for, and more.
What I wanted more of:
Jaden at school. I wanted to see how he interacted, in real time, with his peers. I know the story isn't really about that, but I would have enjoyed at least a super short scene with Jaden in a classroom.
The verdict: Incredible. HALF A WORLD AWAY is a must-read for adoptive and foster parents everywhere, as well as for their kids. Teachers should read it. Social workers should read it. Siblings of adopted kids should read it. Highly recommended for everyone, especially boys ages 9-12.