Half and Half

TPR President Kendall Baldwin

Well, I didn’t have to look too far to find the next book for our new Book Review section. It came home in my little brother’s backpack! While this book could not be more different than the highly scientific non-fiction reading I reviewed two weeks ago, this short simple tale was the perfect quick read for this TPR President currently buried in college applications and Honors and AP classes. I also believe it may appeal to some of our younger members (7- 13) and their parents and educators as well.

“I had to check one of the boxes that said, “White,” “Asian,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” “Native American,” or “Other.” None of them would be right, though, because I’m not any one of those things. I’m half and half: my father is Chinese and my mother is Scottish. I couldn’t just check either “White” or “Asian” since I’m half of each. Why didn’t they have a box for people like me, who were half and half?”

Lensey Namioka’s Half and Half follows an important part of 11-year-old Fiona Cheng’s life. At the start of the junior novel, Fiona has to complete a short form in order to take a dance class at her local recreation center. So how did a seemingly insignificant task become a crucial moment for a young girl to define herself? The paperwork asked Fiona to mark her race.

The sheer fact that this book was assigned reading in my brother’s third grade class is an indication of what we already know; the number of multiracial children like Fiona is rapidly increasing in number. The multiracial, multicultural family that would have been a rare occurrence years ago is now common enough to be deemed a worthwhile topic to address among elementary children. While Fiona had to make the decision of how to mark her race on her own, she is certainly not alone being multiracial in today’s world. The truth is that everyone, regardless of their racial background, is wonderfully unique and often, in the absence of a multiracial category, that uniqueness means their race cannot be confined to a single box on a form. Fiona comes to this conclusion as she reflects on her thoughts about her heritage: “I kind of like it when they can’t fit me in a box so easily.”

I was thrilled to learn that this book was added to our school district’s Language Arts curriculum.  My brother really enjoyed it and because of my interest in the topic, so did I. Although we do not know the author, the beginning reads like a Project RACE brochure! Unfortunately, readers will see Fiona struggle not only with completing the form but, in a rather stereotypical way, with her personal identity as well. While this is undeniably something experienced by some multiracial people, I always resent the faulty assumption that it is a universal struggle among us. It is not. Thankfully, in the course of the story, the young girl comes to a healthy perspective, embracing her full identity!