Veera Hiranandani says her career incarnations have included stints as an admissions counselor, a writing teacher and a children’s book editor. With her first novel for young readers, The Whole Story of Half a Girl, the author introduces readers to Sonia, the product of an intercultural marriage.
Hiranandani’s novel explores the father/daughter relationship as well as the sometimes-complicated issues surrounding identity and middle-school friendship.
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Was there a particular image or event that prompted you to write this book, or was it the result of a long-simmering idea?
It was definitely a long-simmering idea over many years. I had always wanted to write something based on my experiences growing up in a multicultural family. When I started writing the book several years ago, it felt like I was unearthing a story that had always been there for me waiting to be told.
You’ve mentioned some parallels between Sonia’s life and your own (you also have a Jewish mom and an Indian dad, for example). Can you elaborate on the connections between you and your character?
Well, I do have a Jewish mother and an Indian father and have experienced many issues that Sonia experiences in the book. I always carried the feeling of not being completely “whole” or belonging enough to any particular community. I thought everyone else had it easier. Now that I’m an adult, I know the quest for identity is pretty universal no matter what your background is, but it probably would have been simpler to grow up in a more diverse community. I did switch schools and had to adjust in a similar way that Sonia did in the book, but many dramatic plot points with Sonia’s parents, like the father’s depression and disappearance, and what happens with her friends Kate and Alisha are fictionalized, though inspired by the feelings I had back then. The most autobiographical character in the book is probably Sonia.
This novel feels very contemporary—your main character is intercultural, the father loses his job and struggles with depression. Can you comment on how modern events (like the economy, for example) helped shape the story?
Honestly, I had put in that plot point before the downfall of the economy. I think the contemporary feeling is just a happy accident. Some dated details were changed in the revision process, but ultimately I wasn’t that influenced by current events.
It also feels very real in terms of middle-school relationships. Are you drawing on your own memories, or those of your kids? You seem very in touch with the world…
Thank you. My kids are younger, so I think it’s more about my own experiences. My middle years were so important in my development as a person and a reader. That period of time is sort of my “muse.” A part of me, I think, is still stuck back there, trying to process what I couldn‘t then.
The Kirkus reviewer brings up a reference to Judy Blume. Did you read her as a girl?
I was thrilled at the reference, though I don’t know if I deserve to be in such company. She was certainly an important author at that point in my life. What girl growing up in the ’80s wasn‘t enthralled by Judy Blume? I remember trading well-worn copies of her books with my friends and probably read everything she published. I was always attracted to her characters, who were so human to me, so lovably flawed, and yet they always seemed to triumph while staying true to themselves. I will always admire her.
Sonia and her friends Kate and Alisha became very real for me very quickly. I imagine that you, as author, might be quite attached to some of them. Do you miss them now?
Well, thanks for saying that. I find my characters become a permanent part of me, so I don’t really miss them because they’ll always be with me. I’m reading the book with my daughter for the first time now that she’s 8, which is a really wonderful experience. It’s nice to visit them again, like getting together with old friends.