Red, White, and Whole

by Rajani Larocca (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

A heartbreakingly hopeful #ownvoices novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she's the only Indian American student, and home, with her family's traditions and holidays. But Reha's parents don't understand why she's conflicted--they only notice when Reha doesn't meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked--Reha means "star" and Punam means "moon"--but they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can't stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She'll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma's life.

From Indies Introduce author Rajani LaRocca comes a radiant story about the ties that bind and how to go on in the face of unthinkable loss. This is the perfect next read for fans of Jasmine Warga and Thanhhà Lại.

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School Library Journal

Gr 5 Up—Indian American middle schooler Reha navigates growth and loss in this 1980s coming-of-age novel in verse. Thirteen-year-old Reha deals with ordinary concerns; she tries to stay true to her Indian culture while growing up with in the United States, and she grapples with a crush on a classmate. When her mother suddenly gets sick with leukemia, Reha's ordinary everyday concerns fade away and are replaced with the belief that if she is as virtuous as possible, she will save her mother's life. As the story goes on, Reha deals with her grief and builds a strong support network of friends and family to help her face her mother's illness. References to musicians such as Pat Benatar, the Beach Boys, and Cyndi Lauper firmly set this story in the 1980s, but the story otherwise feels modern. Reha's story is slow to start but quickly ramps up. Readers will be invested in her relationships with her parents and friends and will enjoy the evocative verse and emotional stakes. VERDICT A recommended purchase, perfect for fans of Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga and Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton.—Kelsey Socha, Westfield Athenaeum, Westfield, MA

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"I felt this novel in verse in my bones. An important book, it will change how young readers see their world. And that's the best kind of book to read at any age."—Jane Yolen, author of The Devil's Arithmetic, Briar Rose, and Mapping the Bones
Rajani Larocca
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She's always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast. Learn more about Rajani and her books at and Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn at @RajaniLaRocca.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Quill Tree Books
Publication date
February 02, 2021
BISAC categories
JUV039050 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emotions & Feelings
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV039250 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emigration & Immigration
JUV016000 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | General
Library of Congress categories
Mothers and daughters
East Indian Americans
Walter Award
Winner 2022
Newbery Medal
Honor Book 2022
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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