Tag Archives: Autism

Review & Giveaway: The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel

THE OTHER HALF
OF HAPPY
by

 

Rebecca Balcárcel
 
Contemporary / Middle Grade / Multi-cultural Family
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Number of Pages: 332

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Quijana is a girl in pieces. 
 
One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. 
 
One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. 
 
One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. 
 
In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. 
 
This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.
PRAISE FOR THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY:
 
“Seriously, I have never felt so seen in a book.” —Sophia Jimenez of @LatinxinPub
 

“Balcárcel’s well-rounded characters, complex friendships, and nuanced family dynamics will resonate with many readers. This is a title that will remain relevant long past its publication date. A must-have for all library collections.” — School Library Journal starred review

“With poetic, flowing prose that sometimes feels more like a song and characters so convincing that they seem real, Balcárcel’s stunning debut depicts the struggles of being raised with two cultures and the challenges of not being “authentic” enough—in this case, “not Guatemalan enough” or “not American enough.” A lovely, moving, and realistic view of the struggles and insecurities—as well as the beauty—that comes from being bicultural.” — Booklist starred review

“One of the best and most compassionate depictions of autism I have ever read in fiction.” — Latinas Leyendo

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Review

The Other Half of Happy has a cover that is very pleasing to the eye. The colors are happy and the simple illustrations perfectly represent various happenings and lessons that occur in the story. Balcarcel does a very convincing job of writing from the first person perspective of a 12 year old girl who struggles with finding out who she really is and where she fits in this world.

As a second generation American, I could relate to the challenges Quijana faced at school and at home. At school, I was sometimes treated like an outsider when I would share bits of my home life with my peers. But at home, I felt like I was too American and couldn’t be the perfect daughter to my immigrant parents. Quijana’s father is Guatemalan and her mother is an unspecified Anglo-American, but they converse with each other in Spanish often. Quijana wasn’t brought up speaking Spanish and feels frustrated when her father suddenly starts pushing the language on her. I know that feeling all too well.

If I could sum this book up in one word, I would probably go with “inclusivity”. I was pretty amazed at the different ways that the author accomplishes that theme over different interpersonal relationships. When I count the different scenarios that play out, it sounds like overkill; but it all works really well in this story and does not feel contrived at all.

I have to say that my favorite part of this book is the index at the back. The author provides page numbers for Quijana’s maternal grandmother’s wise words (the woman is like an oracle!), gives us the full version of projects that are mentioned briefly in the story, and explains other interesting things referenced in the book. Balcarcel built a wonderful world and made sure we had all the answers to the questions that developed in the back of our minds.

I highly recommend this book for everyone, but especially to children who could use a window into a life that may be very different from their own or perhaps similar. Either way, I think they will find a compelling story that teaches great life lessons.

Rebecca is a bi-cultural Latina who loves her autistic sons, her kitty, and serving the students of Tarrant County College as Associate Professor of English. She holds an MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars, where she was awarded the Jane Kenton Poetry Prize. THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY is her debut novel.

 
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SIGNED COPY OF THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY 
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NOVEMBER 5-15, 2019
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Review & Giveaway: Rounding Home by Sarah Swindell

ROUNDING HOME

by
SARAH SWINDELL
  Genre: Memoir / Family / Autism
Date of Publication: August 2, 2019
Number of Pages: 256
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In 1991, twenty-one-year-old Sarah, the recently divorced mother to two-year-old Hayley, moved from the dusty small town of Farmington, New Mexico to the bustling city of Houston, Texas with dreams of a better life. A year later, she was swept off her feet by Greg Swindell, an established Major League Baseball player who had just signed a lucrative contract with the Houston Astros and was quickly becoming the talk of the city. 
Six weeks after their first date, Greg asked Sarah to quit her job as a hairdresser and marry him during Spring Training in Florida. Over the next several years, Sarah’s Cinderella story continued with the addition of three more children, a lifestyle only a few ever dream of living, and a love story even fewer ever experience.
That is until 2002 when her picture-perfect life came to a gut-wrenching halt, and Sarah was faced with more pain than she ever thought possible. For almost a decade, the puzzle pieces would cease to align due to an avalanche of events; a devastating autism diagnosis, a painful affair, multiple marriages, multiple divorces and her children’s own personal struggles with self-harm, eating disorders, and attempted suicide. 
If you have ever felt lost, betrayed, or heartbroken, this story will inspire you to never give up on finding true joy and happiness again. It will prove there is no such thing as the “perfect family” and that difficult times can actually make you stronger than you ever dreamed possible.

 

PRAISE FOR ROUNDING HOME:
Rounding Home takes you on a riveting journey through the eyes of an exceptional woman who embraced struggle, love, success, and the unimaginable, autism. Get ready to laugh, cry, and flutter with romance; it’s one hell of a love story!” — Gena Lee Nolin, actress, author, advocate, “Thyroid Sexy,” wife & mother
“In Rounding Home, Sarah writes with gritty honesty, a deeply moving account of life with her autistic son. This testament to the resilience of the human spirit will touch your heart and soul.” — Gayle Nobel, life coach, autism mom, and author of three books about living with autism
“This story of the Swindell family is a poignant demonstration of how each family member responded and was changed, for better or worse, as they struggled to come to terms with how their lives had been altered. And although there was damage along the way, they ultimately triumph by rekindling the love that created their family unit in the first place.” — Dr. Bryan Jepson, author, physician, and father of two sons with autism

review

Some of my all-time favorite movies are baseball movies, so I was immediately drawn to the cover art of Rounding Home. I was intrigued by the ghostly image paired with a baseball phrase that normally stirs up feelings of excitement since the base runner is about to score by crossing home plate. The muted colors of the baseball field and the washed out colors of the author, Sarah, standing barefooted with a bottle of wine at her feet is somber and beautiful at the same time.

The only thing I didn’t read in this book is the testimonials page at the very front. I didn’t want my review influenced by anyone else. I have quasi-photographic memory, so that’s a very real hurdle for me when reviewing books. I’m a big fan of the disclaimer about this book being a memoir; the imperfections of human memory and perception that might cause a slight distortion of actual events. I also love the hotline numbers listed below. Upon reading the Foreword, I already knew that I would experience a lot of different feelings from reading this memoir. Motherhood is a very different journey for every woman but we experience many of the same destinations or perhaps choose a slightly different route by our interpretations of life’s map. The Acknowledgements page confused me because it sounded like she was married to one man but was madly in love with another. Once you finish the book, you might come to the conclusion that she sort of was.

Sarah’s voice is very clear and her thoughts are organized, even though her life’s events seemed anything but. She mentions in the Foreword that she asked her editors to tread lightly in order to preserve her natural voice, which I think they did very well, but the proofreading could have been a little tighter. But to be fair, I think only a page or two slipped past the editorial team. The typesetting and formatting of the pages are executed nicely but the design of the jacket feels distinctly self-published.

To say that Sarah Swindell has lived a very interesting life would be a humongous understatement. She lays herself bare; apologetic to those around her who were hurt by her decisions, but unflinching when critiquing her own bad decisions or flaws in retrospect. I found her to be a delightful cocktail of stereotypes validated and realized mixed with beating the odds. Let me explain. She perpetuates that tragic cycle of a woman that can’t be without a man when she gets married and divorced over and over again. But her own daughters are able to break the cycle of girls who are the product of teen pregnancy or divorce: they often get pregnant early or divorced themselves. Her own children struggled with many issues due to the instability of moving around and Sarah’s marriage/divorce cycle, but it looks like they learned from her mistakes and applied the lessons to their own lives.

The story of her son’s challenges with autism could be a book on its own, but I can see how integral it has been to her life’s story and the journey of her family as a whole. I must confess that I had to adjust my judgy pants when she points the blame to vaccinations. But to her credit, she came to this conclusion eons before Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine propaganda. Either way, this memoir is a great read for mothers, especially those who have children with autism. I found this book to be uplifting and inspirational.

 

Sarah Swindell lives in the Austin area with her husband, Greg, a former Major League Baseball player and 2019 Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. Sarah is a commercial actress/model and has been working in the industry for over thirty years. She enjoys spending her free time with her four grown children and several grandchildren who reside in Texas as well.

Sarah is an avid moviegoer, loves yoga and true-crime podcasts, and advocates for children and adults with autism and other disabilities. Her son was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of eighteen months and continues to touch peoples’ hearts to this day.

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+ SIGNED GREG SWINDELL BASEBALL CARD
August 22-September 1, 2019

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