Half a World Away

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Half a World Away Book Poster Image
Troubled adopted boy learns to open heart in moving tale.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the adoption process and how being abandoned by one's birth mother can have lasting psychological repercussions. Several interesting facts about Thomas Edison and electrons are discussed.

Positive Messages

It's possible to learn how to love, and it's possible to give love -- and to be transformed by it -- even when it's not returned. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jaden believes he doesn't deserve his adoptive mother's love and that he'll never be able to return the love she feels for him. He lies, steals, and breaks promises, and sometimes his behavior is dangerous and hurtful, but he's honest about his faults, and readers will understand they're directly related to the lack of love and nurturing he received during his first eight years. Through his observations of others and his own introspection and growing empathy, Jaden overcomes his difficulties and learns to open his heart.


Jaden talks about how he used to have a problem with setting things on fire, for which he went to counseling. He also sometimes hurts himself when he does "aggressive running" to get his energy out. 


M&Ms, Kit Kat, Johnnie Walker, Ziploc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Half a World Away by National Book Award-winning author Cynthia Kadohata (The Thing About Lucktells the story of Jaden, a troubled 12-year-old Romanian boy who was adopted at age 8 and brought to the United States. He lies, steals, and breaks promises to his adoptive parents. But over the course of the novel, his emotional growth is believable and moving. 

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old October 20, 2018

Good but emotional book

This book is really good. It is about an adopted boy who feels like he doesnt fit in/love his family. It almost made me cry, so you know it is written well.

What's the story?

Jaden is a 12-year-old Romanian boy who was adopted at age 8 and has had trouble adapting to his life and family in America. He has been through years of counseling and his parents, especially his adoptive mother, never give up on him, but Jaden still lies, steals, and consciously manipulates his parents. When the family travels to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby, Jaden's feelings are mixed. On one hand, he is afraid the baby will supplant his role in the family and that he'll be neglected. On the other, he is interested in the country and feels sorry for the orphans he visits because he knows he understands better than anyone what they're going through.

Is it any good?

The simple, direct language makes this book to get absorbed in, and the descriptions of life in Kazakhstan, with its camels, hunting eagles, and barren but beautiful landscape, are fascinating. As in her National Book Award-winning The Thing About Luck, author Cynthia Kadohata's deep and complex characterizations make it easy to imagine a life likely vastly different from those of most readers. Jaden's candor about his past and his inability to adjust to life with his adoptive family makes him, if not exactly likable, an intriguing character whom readers will want to get to know better, and his emotional growth is believable and moving. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about well-known adoption stories in books and movies (Oliver! and Annie, for example). How is Jaden's story different from those you've seen or read? Is there anything about Jaden's story that's similar?

  • What are some of the ways traveling to a foreign country can change people? Do you think Jaden's emotional changes would have come about if he hadn't traveled to Kazakhstan?

  • Have you read any other books by Cynthia Kadohata, such as The Thing About Luck? If so, how does Half a World Away compare?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adoption stories

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