Today Marshmallow reviews the 2019 novel The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you enjoy reading books about school, friendship, and family, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Quijana is one-half Guatemalan and one-half American. However, when her Guatemalan cousins move in to the town she lives in, she feels like she is not living up to her Guatemalan part. A main reason for this is because she can’t speak Spanish very well, whereas her cousins speak Spanish as a first language, and they speak English perfectly. But she has other issues too. Her parents have been “Spanish-izing” their house, and trying to introduce Guatemalans culture to their children. Quijana thinks that she is too abnormal as it is and doesn’t want to be “Spanish-ized”.
In the meantime, Quijana’s grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo treatment. Quijana loves her grandmother very much and is very worried about what will happen to her. Quijana is also having issues at school. Spanish-speaking children are very dismissive of Quijana. They seem disappointed by her lack of fluency in Spanish, and tease her for it. Another issue that Quijana has to deal with is the fact that her little brother is becoming remote and harder to reach. (Quijana has other issues too, involving a boy, who is a good friend, but she wants him to be more than that.)
On top of all this, Quijana’s parents want to go to Guatemala on vacation, but Quijana desperately doesn’t want to. She comes up with an escape plan, selling a huipil sent to her by her other grandmother. She plans to board a bus to Florida to avoid having to go to Guatemala.
Marshmallow’s Review: The Other Half of Happy is a beautiful book that really shows its main character’s internal conflicts and concerns. The author, Rebecca Balcárcel, invites the reader into Quijana’s world. The book is narrated by Quijana and she is very open about her thoughts and feelings. Quijana feels like she has disappointed her father and her Guatemalan family, because she doesn’t know how to speak Spanish well.
I think that Rebecca Balcárcel writes in a very poetic way. Here is an excerpt, from page 1, to show you what I mean:
“I live in a tilted house. A bowling ball on our living room floor would roll past the couch, past the dining table, all the way to the kitchen sink. And if the sink wasn’t there and the wall wasn’t there and the bathroom behind that wasn’t there, the ball would roll all the way to my room at the end of the house. That’s what it’s like being twelve. Everything rolling toward you.”Rebecca Balcárcel, The Other Half of Happy, page 1.
I think that Balcárcel does a good job of creating unique characters. The characters have unique characteristics or quirks, which make them a lot more realistic. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew Quijana very well.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.