Rating: Highly Recommend
Nothing makes me happier than books with small but resounding emotional stakes that make me ponder the ways that we connect to other people and find our way, step by step, through what is often an intense and cruel world. And more often than not, my favorite books in this category are young adult novels that explore flash points in the lives of young people. One such book that fits this category is Maria Padian’s latest young adult novel, How to Build a Heart.
Since her dad, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, all Izzy has wanted was a home and some stability. Her mom, little brother and her have been on the move ever since and Izzy is ready to settle down. Completely cut off from her father’s family nearby, Izzy’s family is on their own, especially so after they learn that Habitat for Humanity has selected them as the first family to receive a house on the wealthy side of the town where Izzy lives. Eager to trade in their mobile home for a real house with walls, Izzy is excited and nervous all at the same time, because she doesn’t want any of her friends at her school she attends on scholarship to know that she’s poor. Especially not after she befriends Aubrey, a new girl in their a cappella group. And definitely not after she begins to connect with Aubrey’s older brother Sam. Equally parts poignant romance, heartwarming family drama and a sweet, complicated friendship book, How to Build a Heart is a must read for anyone looking for a great contemporary read about figuring yourself out and learning to trust the people who support you.
I loved Izzy as a character. She felt complicated and real, and I quickly got sucked into the messy dynamics of her story. It’s easy to relate to her complicated feelings toward her neighbor and best friend, Roz, who resents their life in the mobile home and longs to get away from her abusive family to become a stylist. I also related so intensely to Izzy’s shame around having less than her wealthier private school peers, but admired her dedication to her family and ingenuity in juggling all of her responsibilities.
Also, my favorite part of the book was her friendship with Aubrey, and how that connection became the first domino in a chain of events that changed how Izzy saw herself, her family and her situation. In close second for my favorite part of the book was Izzy’s relationship to her father’s family and how that changed and evolved over the course of the book. I loved that a big part of this book was about second chances and learning how to let people in, to let people show you that they’ve changed or that they’re not who you thought they were.
Izzy’s dynamic with the Habitat for Humanity workers was also great. Habitat is an organization that I’ve of course heard of and there have been builds over the years in my area. However, I didn’t know much about the details of it, from the application process to how the builds were completed and what an emotionally and physically taxing process it can be for everyone involved.
The writing itself had such an incredibly and strong voice. Izzy’s thoughts and feelings leaped off the page. The writing is gritty, emotionally intense and lyrical all at the same time. This book would make a perfect weekend read under a pile of blankets or the perfect beach and poolside read once summer, finally, rolls around. Unless you live somewhere warm, now. Then please read this book on the beach for me. 😉