Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata;
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York,
Electricity: It creates lightning, turns on the TV, generates power. A microscopic current. Something that we cannot see, that connects us all. The concept fascinates twelve-year-old Jaden. But what he can’t understand is this: he doesn’t feel connected to anyone. So he lights fires. Hoards food. Steals. Runs until his anger beats him to the ground. His biological mother didn’t want him. And while his adoptive parents say they love him, Jaden feels… nothing. Or, something, actually. Like an epic fail. And now Jaden’s parents want to adopt a new kid, so they pack up and fly with Jaden halfway around the world to get one. In Kazakhstan, Jaden’s smoldering anger flares. He knows what will happen next. Or does he?
Have you ever known someone, close, who loves you but you did not love them back? That’s how Jaden feels about his adoptive parents. Jaden was abandoned by his mother when he was four, and he has told himself he will never love another. And he doesn’t, or at least not until the extraordinary chain of events that occurs when Jaden and his adoptive parents visit Kazakhstan to adopt another child. Half a World Away taught me that love is an amazing thing and can completely transform someone.
When I started reading this novel, I thought Jaden was kind of an obnoxious brat. He has a cell phone and a computer of his own but is sarcastic to his parents, steals money, and hides food. And I’m speaking about stealing more than loose change every now and then. Try thirty dollars! Then I began to feel sympathy for him, because of his situation. And because of the feelings of love for his adoptive parents that Jaden has unintentionally locked up deep inside his soul where he can never find them.
Jaden’s adoptive parents, Steve and Penni, are actually pretty nice. It’s just Jaden who is the problem. Or that’s how he feels, anyway. Jaden believes that he’s just a big screwup, and everything’s his fault. Sometimes I feel like a failure too.
I can relate to Jaden, entirely, because he has trouble controlling his anger and I feel the same way at times. Also, Jaden’s biological mother abandoned him at a very young age. I have not had contact with my biological mother—who lives in a foreign country—in over six years. I share Jaden’s pain. I have a stepmother, and sometimes I wish that I lived with my real mother instead. This book taught me to just be grateful for the family I already have instead of wishing for one that does not seem possible.
Jaden feels that Steve and Penni are looking for a new child to replace him. But when they get to Kazakhstan, they find out the baby they wanted was already adopted. While Steve and Penni look for a new baby to adopt, Jaden struggles with his feelings. Sometimes, I feel I, too, am alone in wrestling with my emotions. This book served to remind me I am not alone.
Half a World Away made me want to cry at some of the sadder parts and jump up and down at the happy parts. This book moved me. I usually don’t read stories like this. Instead, I read adventure stories about dragons or wizards. But I’m glad I read this book, because it made me grateful for who I am, what I have, and most importantly, the family I do have, rather than the family I do not have.