Red, White, and Whole  by Rajani LaRocca

In 1983, 13-year-old Reha struggles to find her place in the world. A child of Indian immigrants who practice the Hindu religion, Reha was born in the United States and lives in a small midwestern town. However, she doesn’t feel like an American even though she desperately longs to: “I have two lives. / One that is Indian, / one that 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 … / And on weekends, / I float in a sea of brown skin and black hair and dark eyes.” When Reha and her family visit relatives in India, the teen also feels out of place: “No matter where I go / America or India, / I don’t quite fit.”  

Reha’s parents’ mantra shapes her days: “Study hard, make us proud.” Reha tries to be a dutiful, virtuous daughter, especially when Amma—her mother—becomes ill with leukemia and is hospitalized. Reha makes a decision: “I am done living in two worlds. / I will be the daughter / my parents want me to be.” Despite her resolve, Reha learns that much is beyond human control, and even though she offers what she is able to, outcomes can be tragic.  

Author Rajani LaRocca is a medical doctor and based this novel on her own experiences. She relates Reha’s story in verse and masterfully employs the metaphor of blood, exploring in an age-sensitive way what it means to feel whole—to live an integrated, congruent life despite obstacles: “Cells and plasma together are called whole blood, / which is what flows inside us. / Red, white, and whole, / the precious river in our arteries, our veins, / our hearts.”  

This absorbing novel for middle school readers introduces Hindu spiritual beliefs. Children steeped in the truths of the gospel will recognize vast differences between Christianity and Hinduism. The guiding insights of a parent or caregiver who participates in reading the book could lead to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and the promise of eternal life through the power of the resurrected Christ. (Quill Tree Books)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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