Mama was always pointing out that of the millions of genes that made them all human, only seven or eight told their skin what color to be. A minuscule amount, she said. A very small difference.
So that was what Minni chose to believe, even though somewhere deep inside her brain, in a little drawer she rarely let herself open, lived the concern that the difference she’d been assured didn’t matter actually mattered a lot. That what she’d been told was small might be enormous. Not here, with her family in the sky. Never here. But somewhere. Maybe even everywhere except here.
Minna, actually Minerva Lunette, is the light-skinned twin, and her sister Keira Sol got the dark-skinned genes of her African American mother. Hardly anyone can believe that red-headed, fair-complexioned, blue-eyed Minna and kinky-haired, brown-skinned, brown-eyed Keira are twins, born in an airplane on the same day from the same mama.
This middle grade novel is a beautifully written exploration of race, racism, biracial identity, and what it means to be black in particular. “There are many ways to be black,” says Minna’s mama, and yet Minna wonders if she can really be black in her soul if her skin is pale and freckled. And Keira wonders if her twin sister secretly, deep down inside thinks she’s better because her skin color is lighter.
Lots of wondering and identity searching and hidden emotional undercurrents and minefields fill this book. It’s not easy being biracial in a society that places so much importance and emphasis on skin color. And it’s especially not easy when everyone around you —black, white, even your own grandmother–judges people and responds to situations in terms of race rather than inner character.
Sundee Frazier, the author of The Other Half of My Heart, is biracial herself, so she knows whereof she writes. The story is told from the point of view of Minna, the light-skinned twin, partly because it’s Minna who experiences the most confusion about her racial identity as the twins visit their black grandmother in North Carolina. Maybe also we get Minna’s thoughts because Ms. Frazier is also fair-skinned, although with curly dark hair, she reflects the racial heritage of both of her parent, white and black.
I give the book lots of points for frankly discussing many of the ins and outs and complications of growing up as a person of mixed race. Is it OK to “pass” for white without saying anything when others are being discriminated against for their darker skin color? Do all light skinned people secretly think they are somehow better than darker skinned people? Can a person be black in her soul if she’s white on the outside? Can anyone ever understand what it’s like to be someone else or live inside someone else’s skin? If your mama’s black and your daddy’s white, what are you? Is there a place in our society, or can there be, where skin color truly doesn’t matter?
Other takes on The Other Half of My Heart:
Great Kid Books: “In The Other Half of My Heart, Frazier raises questions about race, identity and inner strength, in a way that helps children think about these issues without giving them the answers.”
Sandra Stiles at The Musings of a Book Addict: “This is a story that shows the struggle of being accepted for who you are no matter what your color. It also show how strong the bonds between sisters and especially twins are.”