Between Two Worlds by LeAnne Hardy – a book review
For ages 9 and up
This novel is one of those rare 100% third culture kid stories for older middle grade and teens. This is one of those novels where your child will say over and over again: “yeah, I know how that feels!”. There is nothing more powerful than seeing yourself on a page, hearing stories that speak directly to your situation…it’s like making a new friend. Between Two Worlds is just that.
It is also a great winter read. In the novel, Christina and her family move to Minnesota and encounter severe snowstorms that brings the town of Rum River to a halt. Christina learns about the beauty of that first snowfall that blankets the world in white, the world of snow mobiles, snow shoveling, and as well as the bliss of steaming cups of cocoa and warm fires.
About the author:
The author of Between Two Worlds, LeAnne Hardy grew up in the US, but as an adult has lived in six countries and four different continents. She served overseas as a missionary librarian. From her cross-cultural perspective, she has written several books for children that touch upon what it is like to straddle different cultures and how it impacts our lives, socially, emotionally and spiritually. TCKs will clearly see themselves and identify with the struggles and joys she describes in her novels. She has also written another book about a TCK in Mozambique The Wooden Ox.
Christina Larson is faced yet again with another transition in her life as her family leaves for a year of furlough in the US, away from her life in Brazil. As she adjusts to a new culture, new school and a new social scene in Minnesota, she wonders if she will ever fit in. She meets Jason, an Asian American boy who also stands out in a predominantly caucasian community. Both of them must figure out a way to embrace who they are.
The novel centers on Christina’s upcoming fifteenth birthday. In Brazil, the “festa de quinze anos” is an elaborate birthday celebration where friends and family gather to celebrate a girl’s sixteenth birthday and her transition to adulthood. The girl often wears a beautiful gown. Traditional Brazilian foods and desserts are served including a cake, followed by Brazilian dancing. For Christina, moving to the US means missing her festa de quinze anos, something she has been looking forward to for years.
The novel highlights Christina’s transition from Brazil to the US. The author, through her character, identifies common struggles faced by third culture kids returning to US culture:
1. having to say goodbye to a country and friends AGAIN. The airport scene in this novel is one that every TCK can relate to:
“The black tarmac reflected the heat of the Brazilian sun. Halfway to the plane, she stopped once more and looked back at the terminal. It seemed like she had done this a hundred times before. It never got any easier.”
2. Let’s call it “being culturally and socially illiterate”: it may seem like small things, but when you are a middle grade kid or a teen, it’s huge!
- for example, not knowing what to wear or what the latest fashion is. For example, Christiana wears earrings that are no longer in style: “Is that the kind of earrings they’re wearing in Brazil these days?” Anne asked. Christina had studied the Connor’s last Christmas picture and made sure to wear a pair of large clunky earrings like Lisa had worn. Now she noticed that both Lisa and Ann wore long, dangling earrings that swayed gently when they turned their heads.”
- or not understanding certain words or expressions. In this novel, Christina doesn’t know the word “zit”. Everyone laughs at her. She writes in her journal “Today I made a complete fool of myself at lunch…”. Can you relate?
3. that strong unrelenting urge to get on the next plane home. There were times when all Christina wanted to pray was: “Make Mom and Dad decide to go home to Brazil right now…”. As a TCK, I’ve had that same urge more often than I will admit to.
4. missing her friends back in Brazil – Christina is lonely and longs to talk with Marcia, her best friend in Brazil, who shared her secrets for years. I think family relationships and friendships are the glue that holds TCKs together at times. Loosing a best friend is definitely one of those big losses that leaves a gaping hole in the heart of many TCKs.
5. not fitting in, no matter how much you try. Christina befriends a Korean American student and he asks her what she thinks of the high school.
“Everybody here is the same, Christina said, “…If you don’t at least try to conform, you get labeled. And if your skin is a different color or your eyes are shaped differently, it doesn’t even do any good to try. You’re already different before you start. My skin is the right color. The only trouble is … I’m different inside. I don’t fit in, and I don’t even know if I want to fit in.”
6. That longing to fit in, to belong, ultimately leads her to God. The journey of a TCK is in affect a journey of faith. Christina’s faith in God sustain her through the difficult times. Whether it’s loneliness, anger or confusion, she knows that she can bring all those emotions and struggles to her Heavenly Father. A third culture kid develops early on a greater understanding of how broken, transient and how temporary life on earth is. They too, even as a child, long for the day when we will truly be home, truly belong.
“Christina knew in her heart that Brazil wasn’t home any more than Rum River… Only tonight, surrounded by American friends and Brazilian traditions, was it easier to feel it in her heart. She would only truly be home when she got to heaven. All that longing for permanence was really a longing for God.”
Comments about Between Two Worlds by third culture kids:
“I enjoyed this book because I can relate to her. My parents are missionaries to Eurasia. I can understand the hard times she went through. I enjoyed her character.” MK review
“When I read this book I felt like re-lived some of my own transitions to the U.S. as a fellow Missionary Kid from Brazil. It spoke truth about both the joys and the frustrations that comes from being bi-cultural. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is an MK or cares about MKs and their lives. Enjoy!” Kara Suzanne, TCK
I also recommend LeAnne’s other novel about a third culture kid The Wooden Ox. This novel takes place in Mozambique during the War. When Keri and her family are kidnapped by armed rebels, Keri must learn to not only to survive, but to continue to give, love and trust God when all seems hopeless. (For ages 9-12)
LeAnne Hardy is also the author of several picture books about Africa, including:
So That’s What God is Like (2004), illustrated by Janet Wilson
Beads and Braids (2007) illustrated by Arnold Burungi