Complexity of family dynamics, Natalya Newman
Half My Life
1 Feb, 2021
Katie Papahajis feels like a stranger in her own life. Her father left Greece at a young age to live in New Zealand and open a Greek fish & chip shop, yet speaks nothing of the time before New Zealand – and nothing of his family. Her mother is projecting happiness while trying and failing to keep their three-person-family from falling apart, and there always seems to be something lurking beneath that tranquil facade of normality. All the while Katie’s heart and mind have been suffering through doubt and uncertainty for so long – because, after all, if her own parents couldn’t emotionally love her, how could anyone else?
Then comes the news from Greece of her grandmother, who she has only ever talked to within letters, and the promise of a lot more complications. Greece brings the possibility to heal parts of her she didn’t know existed, but first she has to confront her own fears and prove to herself that she is worthy of love.
When Katie is faced with her ‘dysfunctional (or so Mike-the-psych has dubbed it) family’, a boyfriend who she isn’t sure actually loves her, the voice in her head confirming her uselessness, and a sudden trip to Greece to see her dying grandmother; she does the only thing she can. She obsesses over organisation, is stressed and anxious, and can’t seem to stop from tearing herself apart. And always in the back of her mind, half of her life is missing and starting to slip away.
Published in 2020, Half My Life by Diana Noonan reads as an example of unresolved issues from one generation shaping the lives of the next. This book covers the complexity behind family dynamics and relationships, and also the importance of knowing and embracing your heritage. In this YA novel, Katie struggles with not knowing about one half of her life and desperately wishing to connect with both her family and her connection to Greece.
Unresolved issues from one generation can be held onto ferociously by those involved, but issues can leak through those fragile hands held together by pride. By holding onto these issues instead of confronting them, in this novel, Katie’s family struggles to find peace. All she wants is to be loved and learn to heal, both mentally and physically. Noonan highlights the almost painful feeling of knowing something is missing in your life and the oftentimes equally painful joy and relief of finding what was missing. For Katie, this means her Greek heritage and with it, her family.
The cover for Half My Life is a beautiful design depicting Katie wearing her cap to cover up the hair she has pulled out, which I think delicately portrays the message of her trying to cover herself up despite being in plain sight (the front cover). In the background, we see the Greek fish & chip shop her father runs, and thus the only piece of Greece she has ever been able to experience. This takes up half of the cover while the domed buildings of Greece take up the other half. These represent the two halves of Katie’s life, one of them uncomfortable and known, the other absolutely unknown with the possibility of comfort. In this cover, only Katie’s shoulders and above are shown, and they are both in the New Zealand half. This seems to show how she knows who she is in New Zealand, but does not know herself in relation to the Greek part of her life. I also really love the colour scheme on the cover, and the stark white font used for the title complements it.
I love the cultural aspects in Half My Life and if you’ve read and enjoyed books such as The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia then I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. Learning about different cultures through these books has been eye-opening. I would recommend this book to lovers of YA, cultural diversity, self-discovery and family.
Unfortunately, something I did not enjoy as much in this book was the story of Luke, Katie’s boyfriend. Although Luke was revealed to have struggles of his own, Noonan did not explore his path of healing or recovery. Instead of Luke being a tool for Katie to grow as a character, I would have enjoyed it more if there was some closure around his side of the story. The end was satisfying in relation to Katie beginning to accept herself, but I wish Luke could have been given a bit more attention instead of leaving loose ends.
Overall, this book is a compelling read as it is both relatable and has enough emotion and tension in it to keep the readers guessing. Noonan shows how difficult it is to feel comfortable with yourself until you can feel comfortable with your past and heritage. She also shows just how much your mental health can affect you, and that those who struggle with anything should not be ridiculed but instead, supported. So, if you enjoy stories about culture, family, mental health and self-acceptance I’d recommend giving this book a read!
- Natalya is a Year 12 student at Huanui College in Whangarei.