Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
Still only 12, Jaden’s life is about to undergo another major change: “his adoptive so-called parents were adopting another child, a baby boy from Kazakhstan. He figured he knew why they were adopting again: They weren’t satisfied with him.” Parents’ hearts are going to be cringe-ing and crying – but read on you must!
Until he became Penni and Steve’s son, Jaden survived challenges no child should have to face, although far too many do throughout the world. Born in Romania, he was given up by his mother; that she inexplicably kept his brother with her is haunting heartbreak for Jaden that he can’t possibly comprehend.
From ages 4 to 8, “he’d had to fend for himself in group homes.” By the time he arrived in the U.S., his trust of others was virtually nonexistent: he “couldn’t attach properly to Steve and Penni because of being betrayed by the one caretaker he’d ever had – his mother.” He hoards food, he sets fires, he steals, and he literally runs himself into the ground, bloodying his hands with enough regularity that Penni keeps a special stock of blood-clotting bandages. Saddest of all, “[h]e refused to feel love again, ever.”
Now that Penni, Steve, and Jaden are on their way to pick up another child who is supposed to become Jaden’s brother, Jaden is more convinced than ever that Penni and Steve are preparing to replace him. He witnesses his parents’ frustrations in a foreign country, working to understand a language, culture, even legal system, so different from their own. Spending time with some of the children at the orphanage gives Jaden new insight – about all his parents, both biological and adopted, and especially himself. As he unexpectedly develops a special bond with a toddler the orphanage has all but dismissed as un-adoptable, he finally begins to understand the true meaning of family.
More than anyone, Penni proves to be the hero of this realistic, resonating story – the latest from Newbery Medalist (Kira-Kira) and National Book Awardee (This Thing Called Luck) Cynthia Kadohata. When the so-called experts recommend residential treatment for Jaden (and Steve even agrees), Penni is the parent who refuses to send her son away. No matter how much Jaden ignores, pushes, alienates himself from Penni, she is always ready to pull him ever closer to her heart. Jaden’s brutal honesty is often scathing, wrenching, eye-opening – he thinks and says all the things that a parent never wants to hear – but somehow unconditional love will change him: “And, just like that, a light switched on in his head …”
Rest assured, Kadohata is (thankfully) not a magic-wand sort of storyteller: “[Jaden] knew it would be very hard, and he knew he couldn’t immediately change, couldn’t immediately become a kid who knew how to love. But he would try.” Kadohata – whose son was adopted from Kazakhstan – writes with realistic hope, creating quite the convincing depiction of the making of family.
Readers: Middle Grade