Lately I’ve been reading young adult novels with hurting kids; I really need to find something else to read for a while because my heart can’t take much more of this.
Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata is told from the point of view of twelve-year-old Jaden. Jaden spent the first eight years of his life in Romania, four with his birth mother that he can’t remember and the next four in an orphanage being mistreated and malnourished. He is finally adopted by a loving American couple that tries so hard to make Jaden feel loved and welcomed, but his rough start has left a lot of scars.
Jaden sets fires, steals, hoards food, and visits shrink after shrink with no end in sight. The compassion his adopted mom shows is so beautiful, but Jaden can’t feel love. He doesn’t understand it, doesn’t get it, and only dreams about going back home to his real mom to find out why she kept his brother but not him. It’s heartbreaking to be in Jaden’s head as he struggles with being loved and belonging somewhere.
Then Jaden’s parent decide to adopt again and that gives him all kinds of new feelings and issues. The family travels to Kazakhstan to adopt a baby and emotions boil over as Jaden fights his family, his surroundings, and himself. As a reader, you just want to scream at him that so many people love him, why can’t you see that?? But I get it and it’s painful and sad to watch Jaden self destruct.
Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata would make a great read aloud for kids (it’s pretty short) because there are so many great lessons and discussion points in it. So many of my students would find a connection to Jaden, would understand his struggle and desire to fit in, to love himself and let others love him. There is no neat and tidy ending for this one, but it ends full of hope.