Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Other Half of My Heart

The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee Frazier 2010
Delacorte Press/Random House for Children

Rating: 3.5/5

IQ "'You need to remember that these bodies we're in are just vehicles. They're part of who we are, sure. An important part. But what's riding around inside is a whole lot more important.' Mama had told them this before. Keira liked to say that if their bodies were vehicles then hers was most definitely a Jaguar. Minni had decided on a hybrid-because she was mixed, of course but also because hybrids were environmentally friendly." pgs. 219-220

Minerva and Keira King made the news when they were born. Not just because they were born in an airplane, but also due to Keira being born Black like their Mama and Minni being born white like their Daddy. The twins are now eleven and still very close and even though they receive lots of stares (they tend to look like a chessboard walking down the street), it doesn't matter because they have each other. Until Mama's mother, Grandmother Johnson demands that the twins enter the Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America program (not pageant!), Keira is gung-ho but the idea of standing in front of so many people (let alone showcasing some kind of talent) makes Minni want to hide. Minni reluctantly agrees when Keira assures her that they will get through the program together. They'll need each other since Grandmother Johnson is so strict. It soon becomes clear however that Grandmother Johnson favors Minni and Keira retreats into herself, the twins aren't each other's rocks anymore and this throws Minni into confusion. How can she do well in the pageant if Keira is mad at her? Shouldn't Keira realize by now that Minni's too shy to stand up for herself, let alone anyone else?

What really disappointed me was that the story was told entirely from Minni's perspective. I was expecting to hear from Minni and Keira, but instead we only receive Minni's side of the story. Sympathy can be roused for both characters and it's both painful and rewarding to see Minni finally get 'it', understand what it's like to be the ONLY ONE. However I felt that the book could have been much stronger if Keira also got to tell her part of the story, what was it like for her being in the majority? I was surprised at how quickly the pageant/program (a running joke in the story) was over. Minni spends all this time worrying about it and then it's over in about a chapter. I was hoping to read more about preparations for the pageant and to learn about the other participants, instead they were just used to exclude Minni and befriend Keira. I also thought the writing could be heavy-handed, especially concerning Martin Luther King Jr. Minni's initials are MLK, which was intentional. That's cute but Minni talks about him all the time which is great, but so do all the other characters and I wanted to learn about other civil rights heroes (or at least I wanted someone to remind Minni that their are other civil rights leaders. No disrespect to MLK, he's one of the most inspiring figures in the history of the world). I did learn something new, Martin's first name was actually Michael. His father changed it after a trip to Germany during which he learned about Martin Luther. Maybe I just have lesser patience when it comes to stories that emphasis civil rights leaders over and over again because growing up that's what my parents talked about, we watched movies, read books, etc. Not to mention MLK is probably one of the few Black Americans we study for a long period of time in most schools and so now I'm more impatient with the BIG NAMES of the civil rights movement.

I did like Minni's narration even though I also wanted to hear from Keira. I think the author did a great job fleshing Minni out. She has a rather dry sense of humor but she can really let loose, she's insecure, doesn't always stand up for what's right and she dearly loves her sister. These components make her seem very realistic. At one point when it's starting to become clear that Grandmother Payine-in-the-Butt Johnson isn't too fond of Keira, Minni decides that "Grandmother Johnson was no small woman, but if she tried to nab Keira, Minni would jump her. It was still two against one, and Grandmother Johnson was old." (pg. 96). I found it amusing that she and Keira didn't have the stereotypical 'twin thing' of finishing each other's sentences. Dyslexia is brought up and the topic is addressed with both humor and sensitivity, it's frustrating to see how teachers just gave up instead of really working to diagnose the disability and then work with Keira to overcome/cope with the disability. Grandmother Johnson is both a nuisance and entertaining, set in her ways, hardened by life, the twins come up with some creative schemes to get back at her. I was happy to see that Grandmother Johnson is not demonized throughout the book, she's human and not evil just to be evil (I wouldn't even go so far as to say she's evil).

The Other Half of My Heart is brimming with emotions and sentimentality. The story is slow, but that allows for Minni and Grandmother Johnson to truly develop as characters. I only wish the same could be said for Keira. Keira develops into a character, but always seemed to be a secondary character and I felt that she was simply 'Minni's twin' but that contradicts with this story which seems to be trying to show that each of the twins are individuals. I would have better appreciated all the sun and moon references if they were more slyly woven in (I never would have figured out what Keira meant though) but they work well with the story and enhance the telling. I loved how Keira and Minni's parents weren't abstract, absent parents. I got a real feel for their personalities and you can draw your own conclusions on who the twins most closely resemble. I would have liked more pageant details but it isn't meant to be a pageant expose, but I do think the Miss Black Pearl PreTeen preparations could have been made more interesting instead of rushed through. In a way this book airs out our dirty laundry. Even though it's the 21st century, Black people are still silly enough to try and bring each other down. There is still a very subtle message that being dark is bad, but light is alright. There's enough prejudice in this world as it is, I don't understand why we still have so much inter-cultural prejudice. A strong story about the bond between sisters (specifically twins), being color struck and growing up.

Disclosure: Received from the author for review. Thank you so much Sundee!