Sonderbooks Book Review of

Red, White, and Whole

by Rajani LaRocca

Red, White, and Whole

by Rajani LaRocca

Review posted July 9, 2021.
Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 217 pages.
Review written April 28, 2021, from a library book

This is a novel in verse, so it goes quickly. Reha is telling her story and this is how she introduces herself:

I have two lives.
One that is Indian,
one that is not.
I have two best friends.
One who is Indian,
one who is not.

At school I swim in a river of white skin
and blond hair and brown hair
and blue eyes and green eyes and hazel,
school subjects and giggles about boys,
salad and sandwiches.

And on weekends,
I float in a sea of brown skin and black hair and dark eyes,
MTV music videos and giggles about boys,
samosas and sabjis.

In both places I have
gossip and laughter
music and silence
But only in one place do I have
my parents.

I’ve read quite a few books set in middle school lately. As always, there’s plenty to navigate. Reha’s got her two lives, and at school is assigned to work on a project in English with a boy and wonders what that means. And she wants to go to the school dance, but will her parents let her?

Then her mother gets sick with leukemia, and all other concerns fade in comparison. This book is set in 1983 and reflects the treatments available then.

It’s a tough story, but I like the way Reha’s friends rally round. I also enjoyed the Indian folk tale Reha tells us about, regarding a princess who charmed Lord Death and won the life of her husband.

Reha’s mother’s red blood cells and white blood cells need to work together. She’s a hematologist, so she knows what’s going on with leukemia. Just as those blood cells need to work together, Reha wants the parts of her life to work together.

This novel is poignant and insightful, a quick read that doesn't feel trivial.