Miraflores always assumed that her Panaman father was a callous man who had an affair with her married mother and cared little about the child that resulted. He has never called her, written to her, or made an effort to get involved in her life. When her mother falls ill, Mira goes through her papers and discovers letters from her father, expressing his vibrant love for her mother and for Mira herself, even though he has never met her. Torn by her realization, Mira lies to her mother and her mother’s new caregiver and flies to Panama City, determined to find the man who loved her mother so and fill in the missing pieces of her life.
This is a lovely, lovely book. It’s carefully written in measured, beautiful prose, allowing the impact of the emotions that the characters are feeling to sweep the reader away more than telling us that it should. The setting is gorgeous. I could feel the warm breeze in Panama and the chill in Chicago’s winter. I could see the Panama Canal for myself for the first time.
As Mira starts to peel away the secrets of her life, the book becomes more and more absorbing. Meanwhile, she makes a very special friend in Panama who adds a bit of tension to the book. We’re never sure what his intentions are or even what Mira’s intentions are. They are united in a quest to find her father, but beyond that is a mystery and helps to propel the story along when the clues aren’t fast in coming. It also sets up an interesting parallel between Mira and her mother once the truth is exposed. History can only repeat itself if we let it happen.
Interspersed with the novel’s story are bits of scientific information about geography. These are carefully chosen to reflect the emotions of the characters. For example, the beginning of the novel has a description about the hardening of the earth’s core and its fiery heart; later we learn that one of the characters has become exactly like that over the course of her life. We get a description of volcanoes when Mira nearly has a breakdown and can no longer control how she’s feeling. I thought this was a really nice touch since Mira is an aspiring geologist herself. It ties together Mira’s voice with science and with the story in a deeper way.
The questions this book asks, mostly through the relationship of Mira and Danilo, are similarly inspiring and relevant. Mira struggles with questions of belonging in Panama; her father lived there and she wants to belong, even speaking Spanish, but she vascillates between feeling welcome and feeling different. More than looking for her father, Mira is looking for herself and the half of her that she never had a chance to know. With Danilo, she has cause to question how well they fit together and how any relationship, even a friendship, between them can work. Their lives are different, but does that mean their future must also be different?
The World in Half is a wonderful, thoughtful book. I loved Mira and I wanted her to find her father and the happiness that she deserves. The ending is left open, but I liked it better that way. Life is unpredictable and we already know the path Mira would choose if she had a choice. I very strongly recommend this book.