For Jayden, electricity is fascinating. Everything has a "spark," most of all, fires. But this eleven-year-old doesn't set fires because he's angry or upset. He does it because he doesn't feel anything at all -- about his friends at school, his adoptive parents, or even himself. He is nothing but a failure.
When his parents decide to adopt another baby from Kazakhstan, Jayden fears the worst: the only reason they are adopting is because he did not turn out like they had hoped. Maybe this new baby would be. But on their journey, something begins to change in Jayden. As he looks at babies with blank stares, he begins to feel something jolt in his heart. Then he meets another child who changes everything.
Although Half a World Away is for middle-grade readers, Jayden's disconnection from the adult world and his uncertainty about his role and his future is something that both teens and adults can easily relate to. Cynthia Kadohata has the wonderful gift of merging cultures in a beautiful way. Although I've never been to Kazakhstan, I felt the wonder and confusion with Jayden as he discovered more about this new world and himself in the journey.
Sometimes the only way to reach a child is through another child. As a writer, we often have to step into a character's shoes and experience a life very different than our own. Step back and think to a time in your past that was memorable to you. How did you feel at that age? How did you view the world? Experiment by writing a short story from that viewpoint.
Be sure to check out Half A World Away at your local library.